Cy Gavin, “Overture”

Art, Painting Free
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 (Photograph: Courtesy Sargent's Daughters)
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Photograph: Courtesy Sargent's Daughters

Picturing African-American figures that symbolically inhabit Expressionist landscapes, Cy Gavin paints like the love child of Kerry James Marshall and Peter Doig. In Untitled, for instance, a naked man in lies in an Arctic wasteland, a huge mass engulfing his head, pinning him down with the weight of blackness.

In To Matter, another nude male leans against a boulder, looking at us from within a black cloud; the caps of three NYPD officers sit at his feet, while childlike chalk outlines of an angry ghost hover under the moonlight. The police killing of Eric Garner springs inescapably to mind, but the image feels classical: Equivocal and introspective, it suggests a personal allegory.

In Spittal Pond, Bermuda, a monstrous pair of legs covered in staples loom against a blood-orange sky. The puncturing metal lacerates the black body, but it also sutures the incongruous figure to its setting, concisely conflating injury, pain, alienation and place. Here, as elsewhere, Gavin matches painterly skill to a cannily eloquent materiality.—Joseph R. Wolin

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