Brian Calvin: Major Minor

Art Free
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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Californian artist Brian Calvin belongs to that centuries-old and somewhat overpopulated tradition of blokes who like painting pictures of pretty young women. Indeed, he paints little else. In this exhibition, there’s one particular pretty young woman who takes centre-stage. She wears heavy eyeshadow, a look of affected listlessness, and a pout that reveals a Brigitte Bardot-esque gap between her front teeth.

Calvin’s method of execution, stylised and cartoonish, has repeatedly earned him comparisons with quasi-pop supremo Alex Katz. There’s certainly the same – though hardly equal – underlying inquisitiveness at work in Calvin’s pictures. You can practically hear him thinking: ‘How do I most simply and unfussily describe an eye in two-dimensional terms?’ (Answer: with four circles. An iris, a pupil and two orbiting beads of light.)

Such visual formulae, tried-and-tested solutions, are applied again and again. And then again. So are the same haughty expressions and postures, especially in a series of smaller pastel drawings of – drum roll – women. Artfully held cigarettes, glasses pushed down noses, all ad infinitum. Of course, it’s deliberate rather than unimaginative; for all his folksy cuteness, Calvin is still very much an artist of these narcissistic times of ours, painting in an era of selfie-clogged image feeds, face-morphing apps and the ongoing existence of the cultural entity known as Kendall Jenner. They’re a strange beast, these pictures: just as nihilistic as they are cheerful. But to be fair, that split personality is what makes them interesting.

By: Matt Breen


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