Time Out New York / Feb 5–11, 2009

Jesse Chapman

Timelessness isn’t an attribute art aspires to very often these days: It’s as if the best that can be mustered is a mildly provocative contemporaneity. But the work of Jesse Chapman does seem to reach for a mythic (or at least fabulist) resonance designed to outlast the exhibition’s run.

The gallery statement makes heavy weather of the paintings’ supposed hermeticism, but they don’t seem all that cryptic. At his best, Chapman approaches a kind of magical realism evocative of the finest children’s book illustration. In the knowingly naïve figurative style made familiar by Dana Schutz, Brian Calvin and Christophe Ruckhäberle, his images exercise a direct appeal.

The Taxes, for example, depicts one man forking over some coins to another in a transaction that stretches eternally into the past and the future, while the figure of a torchbearing woman in The Light feels similarly ancient and universal, an emblem of hope, perhaps, or curiosity. A few motifs recur throughout the show. Most satisfying of these is a row of single beds, hard, shelflike forms wedged tightly into the picture plane. In two variations, the beds are empty; in a third, they’re occupied and attended to by anonymous figures. All are formally neat, but appropriately dreamlike, too. The simplicity of Chapman’s scenes hints at allegorical intent, but the fact that this quality is pushed no further does nothing to diminish the work’s haunting presence.

Image: Jesse Chapman, The Oars, 2009