Time Out New York / Dec 18–31, 2008

Barnaby Furnas

Three distinct series are interwoven in Barnaby Furnas’s latest outing, but the attempt at creative juxtaposition often feels jarring, making the showier works feel relatively ephemeral (their grander scale notwithstanding) while drowning out the subtleties of the quieter works. Still, it’s pleasing to see Furnas continuing to experiment with both medium and message while sticking to his guns as a dynamic and likable figurative painter.

As fans of the artist already know, those guns are often muskets; indeed, the canvases that are most comparable to the style and subject of previous work are his lively interpretations of Civil War–era themes. In a trio of small canvases, he renders the embattled figures of abolitionist crusader John Brown and his followers in characteristically angular style, allowing the image to collapse periodically into abstraction. Each man hides behind a shot-to-pieces wooden fence, and there is a beguiling confusion of shape, form and perspective as the background bleeds through the holes.

This push-pull battle between surface patterning and naturalistic description recurs in a group of rock-concert studies. Here, stage lighting provides the abstract foil as a spectacular lattice of crisscrossing beams. The musicians are dwarfed by their towering quasi-psychedelic backdrops, and, in the dazzling White Concert (Bowie), merge with it. It’s fun stuff, but the contrast with three “Dead Day” paintings—glowering nocturnal landscapes marked by burnt holes and textural striation—is a little too stark. “Closed Loop” is a fine show that would look even better divided into three.

Image: Barnaby Furnas, Concert (Brian Jonestown Massacre), 2008