Rob Davis, Mike Langlois
Rob Davis Mike Langlois
Monique Meloche Gallery
September 10 – October 23, 2004
Monique Meloche Gallery recently opened a new space in Chicago and presents the work of painting duo Rob Davis and Mike Langlois. In I against I, Paintings and Drawings of the New Spirituality, Davis and Langlois present a selection of disparate, lavishly painted images ranging from photorealist takes on their mothers to the cannibalism of a cobra devouring his mate.
The idea driving the show is common, Davis and Langois simply take images open to various projections of meaning and place them on the wall. However, I see no attempt to empty meaning from these works by leaving their interpretations loose; content leaks in from all sides.
This is representation speaking in the tradition of Ben Shahn and Norman Rockwell. The overt content is a certain view of America and the result of the presentation is slightly disturbing. It is almost as though Richard Prince decided to stop appropriating and simply claimed upstate New York as his own, as his home with all its flaws and joys.
Right through the front door of the gallery is the large, horizontal Space (2004). The suggestive title of the show, “New Spirituality,” places this field of gaudy stars somewhere between the contemplation of mystics and the iconographic tradition of black light posters. The work’s perfect surface and slick finish lends comfort to the idea of it being on a gallery wall, but this painting is in fact the perfect stoner basement accessory. Davis and Langlois of course like it that way, and the work points to the spiritual reality of certain Americans as being akin to the hallucinations of drugs or the errant misreading of people eager for signs.
In Moms (2004), the duo paints reproductions of what looks like low-end yearbook photos or Wal-mart studio shots. It is easy to see through their tender, soft rendering that Davis and Langlois love their mothers, but what makes the portraits more charming is that their love is slightly delinquent. Moving from Moms to Pyre (2004), a large painting of a fuzzy blaze recalling Gerhard Ritcher, I imagine Davis and Langlois mischievously acquiescing to take out the trash only to later spray it with accelerant, setting a pagan bonfire in their front yard. Pyre is a mysterious fire, and taken out of the fabric of the show as a whole, could easily recall the burning bush. This, however, is definitely an American flame, akin to Ed Ruscha’s Various Small Fires (1964), full of colloquial mayhem worthy of the film Gumo.
Less ambiguous is Halle Sellassie (2004), a parody of Ingres’ portrait Emperor Napoleon 1 on his Imperial Throne. Some know Sellassie as the departed ruler of Ethiopia, but in the world of Davis and Langlois, the image exudes hemp paraphernalia, conjuring the mystique of Bob Marley and the Wailers. The “Lion of Judah” becomes a soft, fussy rich kid. Sellassie carries his girth like a pillow and his legs do not appear to have any real connection to his body; they hang limp in front of the throne.
Halle Sellassie is just another take on the theme of false symbols and decadent belief. From there, the painters seem to want to take the viewer literally to the Edge of Oblivion (2004), an oil on view at the end of the show and at the top of the gallery’s staircase. The work is Davis and Langlois’ “rock and roll painting,” and it is an image of a cobra seemingly eating its cousin. This recalls primal, cultish myths of Saturn, Ouroboros, and savage primitivism. The black outlines of the serpent carve into the surface of the painting giving it the gritty look of a tattoo. In terms of spirituality, the image comes across as slightly crass and almost as a rude joke. It is as though the zenith of myth functions in America as the perfect iron-on patch for a biker jacket. Ozzy would approve.