A used bar of pink soap. The glowing face of an alarm clock. An open beer can. Door knobs. A utility van’s handle. These are some of the subjects of Anthony Palocci Jr.’s straightforward yet enigmatic series of small paintings on view in his exhibition It Can’t Rain All The Time at How’s Howard?. Like a forensic photographer, Palocci Jr. studies things we might touch countless times or even rub over our bodies and put our mouth to, leaving personal traces with very little thought. Each item is gathered from personal experience and often linked to a loved one: his deceased friend’s bar of soap found in his bathroom, his girlfriend’s alarm clock set to snooze, and his father’s handgun casually left on the kitchen table. But this information is not explicitly given in the title and even without knowing every backstory, Palocci Jr.’s paintings inject his often banal subjects with a magnified presence and contemplative sense of isolation.
Looking at each work, I began to imagine Palocci Jr.’s eye as a roving viewfinder where an initial capture is refined through the slower process of painting and prolonged concentration. Framing and perspective amplify and abstract each moment of close observation. The metallic surface of an herb grinder used for marijuana is dramatically lit, zoomed in upon, and transformed into a foreign landscape of yellow pyramids with sharp black/blue shadows, a landscape which reminded Palocci Jr. of one Giorgio de Chirico’s desolate and surreal scenes. Displayed nearby, Tower of Babel, 2017, enlarges the top of an open aluminum can that we peer down upon as if we are contemplating the open void of a friend’s drink. Palocci Jr. chose the subject to reflect on the role drinking plays in his social life, and how a night of drinking may descend into incoherent babble. The can’s small details are precise and heightened; its pulled tab casts a deep purple, velvety shadow that subtly curls over the can’s surface indentations. These small details are not mechanically wrought in service of photorealistic virtuosity. Instead, they work toward an affective, foreboding end as the looming golden rim of the can emerges from darkness.
Palocci Jr.’s rigorous painting process marries a fidelity to the particularities of his source with his own personal touch. He often ditches smooth modeling in favor of outline and mark making and allows his grounds of bright under painting layered for luminosity and depth to peek through. A utility van’s old-fashioned metal door handle becomes a hypnotic focal point as concentric circles of white and grey marks suggest a reflective surface, contrasting with an obscured bright red ground. The browns, greys, and whites of an old radio’s tuner and dials are made warmer with lime green and red, specks of which remain barely visible underneath. The paintings’ surfaces are flat with the natural weave of the linen canvas softening an object’s edges and outlines. In Everyday is a New Day (2017) the rounded back of the pink bar of soap sensually dissolves against its dark background.
As a series, the subject matter speaks to larger themes of vice, violence, loss, and virtue. There’s booze, pot, handguns, and perhaps the small promise of daily cleansing and renewal distilled in the bar of soap and its accompanying title Everyday is a New Day. In Left to the Darkness, Right to the Light (2017), we stare directly at a door’s edge and deadbolt with one doorknob illuminated and the other in shadow. With Last Judgment paintings in mind where the damned are pictured to the left hand of God, Palocci Jr. saw a cruciform in the composition. The deadbolt and play of light provokes associations with security, privacy—who we chose to let in or keep out—and the idea that fateful moral choices may open some doors while closing others.
Many of the objects Palocci Jr. focuses on are illuminated and revealed against dark backdrops. Because the objects are mundane—anyone could have the same bar of soap or alarm clock—they do not necessarily reveal much about the identity of who may have left them behind or uses them. While each item is placed front and center and given a sense of intimate specificity through Palocci Jr.’s lavish attention and sensitive painting, they remain slightly inscrutable. The power is in the painting process itself where scrutinizing the exterior appearance of an object to discover it anew on the canvas feels like a search to understand and articulate without sentimentality or grandiosity its internal, personal meaning.
It Can't Rain All The Time is up through October 15, 2017 at How's Howard?.