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Barnaby Furnas: Frontier Ballads at Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York

The exhibition features new paintings that both encapsulate and question deeply-held mythologies of American identity, from representations of the rugged terrain of the West and the legendary explorers who settled it, to symbols of patriotism and those marking the country’s image of wholesomeness. This body of work also marks a new phase in Furnas’ ongoing experimentations with process and technique, as the paintings are being created in part through new robot technologies developed to his specifications. The new paintings are created through Furnas’ characteristic play with figuration and abstraction. Lines, color blocks, geometric shapes, and pools of paint at once fragment and build up the overarching scenes, creating kaleidoscope-like effects that amplify the sense of motion and heighten the sensory impact of the work. A methodical investigation of tools and materials has served as a connective thread throughout the artist’s practice, yielding a range of aesthetic breakthroughs in his work. His diverse cache of painterly techniques, which includes pouring, splashing, patterning, and even burning, converge to create a truly tactile experience of the picture plane. For much of his career, Furnas has dealt with the epic —battle scenes, Biblical tales, natural disasters, and moments of human triumph and failure. His paintings roil with vibrant action that lives just beneath and atop the surface, contained and fractured by the two-dimensional confines of the canvas. Confronted with the tumultuous 2016 US presidential election, Furnas began probing at a subject that has itself been built on the tension between the real and perceived: American identity. From large-scale portraits of wooly buffalos to scenes of travelers traversing distant lands to images of Midwestern choir singers, Furnas’ new paintings exude a sense of nostalgia that simultaneously feels at the brink of rupture —at any moment those idealized views will crack from the energy and emotion underneath