The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2023

All Issues
MAY 2023 Issue

Angela China: Girl on the Grass

<p>Angela China, <em>Purple Landscape</em>, 2023. Oil on canvas, 104 x 80 inches. Courtesy Malin Gallery.</p>

Angela China, Purple Landscape, 2023. Oil on canvas, 104 x 80 inches. Courtesy Malin Gallery.

On View
Malin Gallery
Girl on the Grass
March 9–May 20, 2023
New York

The particular thrill of spring lies in its potential energy. As frosty air and bleak clouds give way to warmth and color the sense of renewal inherent to blooming tulips and budding leaves becomes palpable. And so it is witnessing the debut exhibition of a young artist full of promise—hope also blossoms. Girl on the Grass, a solo show of ten paintings by New York-based artist Angela China arouses a similar, buoyant expectation. We become privy to burgeoning talent.

China first gained notice for her work as a street artist, painting and wheat-pasting under the tag Gumshoe, so named for the iconography that first garnered her attention: a pair of women’s legs in towering stilettos, stepping on a wad of chewing gum. Her evolution as a street artist coincided with a developing interest in art history, which began to seep into her renegade art. In 2018, one of her street works, riffing on Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), featured grotesque renderings of Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, and Kevin Spacey—all accused sexual abusers—in place of Picasso’s nude, female prostitutes. But even then, in this earlier, more figurative and graphic work, a veneration for the materiality of paint was evident.

<p>Angela China, <em>Artist’s Studio</em>, 2023. Oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches. Courtesy Malin Gallery. </p>

Angela China, Artist’s Studio, 2023. Oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches. Courtesy Malin Gallery.

For the past several years, China has locked in on her studio practice, largely trading edifices for canvases. Her bold hand persists, as does her preference for considerable surfaces. Purple Landscape (2023), is a standout example. Nearly nine feet tall and six feet wide, the expanse allows China the opportunity to roam free with her brushes. Some areas are only lightly washed while others are built up to such a degree that paint juts from the surface in craggy mountain ranges. China also has a knack for rendering light. Blocky but indistinct brushstrokes of copper and buttermilk along an imagined horizon line conjure visions of “Manhattanhenge,” the phenomena that takes place in New York around the summer solstice, when the sunset over the city results in a resplendent and otherworldly glow of light, reflecting off skyscrapers that make up the urban canyons. That this tawny brilliance melds seamlessly with the thick, more muted pastes of lilac and gray in the foreground is a testament to China’s deft use of color. The painting rewards the lingering eye in its varied surfaces and textures, and invites the viewer to plumb the depths of a cityscape that hovers like a mirage at the edge of reality, both there and not.

A sense of dreamy unreality prevails across many of the works on view, even among smaller canvases like Artist’s Studio (2023). Here, in a quieter palette, one can at first imagine daylight pouring through an atelier window, casting a gentle glow over a can of paintbrushes. But in proximity the vision dissolves, the narrative frays, and is sublimated into the crosshatched brush marks, scrapes of the palette knife, and viscous daubs of ochre and sand and Prussian blue. Even a more overtly figurative work, like Girl Holding a Head (2023) is suffused in reverie, as the apparition of a young woman carries what seems to be a skull, presented on a platter. The deliberate indistinction of China’s brushwork keeps the piece from becoming a strictly representational portrait while also sneakily recalling Titian’s Renaissance masterpiece, Salome with the Head of John the Baptist.

<p>Angela China, <em>The Other Side</em>, 2023. Oil on canvas, 28 3/8 x 28 3/8 inches. Courtesy Malin Gallery.</p>

Angela China, The Other Side, 2023. Oil on canvas, 28 3/8 x 28 3/8 inches. Courtesy Malin Gallery.

In Houseplant (2023), a riotous impasto coalesces at the top of another nine-foot tall canvas, seeming to spill over the brim of whatever might contain it. A few subtle right angles of paint frame the tangle, suggesting the walls and ceiling of a room, and at a distance the eye perceives a hanging plant, abundant with flora and foliage. But approach the work closely and the imagery once again collapses, leaving behind only an impression of greenery you were sure you saw before.

This all leads to a turn towards pure abstraction, which China achieves in a couple of works in this show. The Other Side (2023) is a nimble painting, with an extravaganza of color engulfing a smooth, twilit background. It’s here—in an aggressive thrash of umber and softer smudges of blue, in streaks of yellow that emulate light—that China seems to come into her own, a distinct, visual language fully developed. At the center of the work a creamy, nebulous cavity in dovetail gray widens amidst the thick profusions that surround it. Dancing along chunky lips and ridges of paint, the eye is drawn inward towards the depths of this gyre. Crossing a threshold, it reaches another side.


Jessica Holmes

Jessica Holmes is a New York-based writer and critic. She is an Art Editor and ArTonic Editor for the Brooklyn Rail.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2023

All Issues