Carl Plansky as reviewed by Brice Brown
Survey exhibitions draw their strength from being the better porridge: not too hot and not too cold, they contain just the right amount of work representing an easily digestible cross-section of an artist’s output. For this reason, these shows have the unique ability to provide an overview of an artist’s development sufficient enough for the viewer to discern larger, more general aesthetic trends and patterns –– as well as ideological or theoretical agendas –– while simultaneously sharpening the viewer’s focus on the specific nature of each piece and how it relates one-to-one with the other works on view. It’s a recipe ripe with the potential to bat away preconceived or too-comfortable notions of an artist’s work, unveiling newfound ways to experience its multifarious layers.
This survey of Carl Plansky’s work is both revelatory and deeply consoling. On the one hand, witnessing the tenacity of Planksy’s nervy, unwavering dedication to the craft and history of painting –– often in opposition to the ever-shifting trends declaiming it as old news –– imparts a warming sense of comfort in the knowledge that old-school notions of willful purpose, the heroic gesture, and salvation found through brave individualism (ideals for which Abstract Expressionist artists like Willem de Kooning vehemently championed) still have a place in contemporary art and are still worth fighting for. On the other hand, being afforded the chance to see and assess a range of Plansky’s work has the delightfully unexpected, though confusingly counter-intuitive, effect of providing an escape from the seduction of the lush surfaces of his paintings.
The crusty, juicy mounds of pigment, the ballet of facile mark-making, the curious luminosity of light and the vividness of color are all deeply essential components of the work, and indeed few artists can pull off such satisfyingly frenetic tornadoes of materiality like Plansky. But moving beyond these seductive come-ons clarifies the paintings’ subject matter in the viewer’s mind, opening up the work to reveal the kooky narratives, hidden worlds and life lessons which add rich textures to the viewer’s overall experience.
For Plansky, the triumvirate of the traditional motifs of still life, landscape, and human figure has been a lucrative source of inspiration. When he uncomfortably overextends a rose’s stem –– stretching it out to its maximum reach and then flash-freezing it in space so it hovers, jittering like an agitated cartoon –– Plansky is not simply taking compositional license. He is exposing the animated life of things. Each petal, leaf, stem and vase has its own distinct personality and identity, hinting at the interconnectivity of all living (and non-living) objects.
In Plansky's landscapes we see a portrait of our complex relationship to nature, one that is equal parts awe, terror, claustrophobia and love. The paintings' tightly sprung compositions reveal an understanding that in the blink of an eye nature can turn from a sleepy idyll into a destructive, unstoppable force, only to return back to a state of rest. These landscapes not only embody timely metaphors for how our actions can and are adversely impacting the environment, but they bring us face to face with the fragility and unpredictability of our own life.
Plansky's paintings of figures are smart hybrids of refined 19th century academic figure studies with portraits decumenting the very genesis of human life. Limbs posed in classic stances are at once liquid and solid, seemingly unsure if they are supposed to remain flexh or dissolve and transmute into another state of being. With these paintings, Plansky shows us in a very visceral manner how the body is strong, sensual, handsomely proportioned and pleasing to the eye, and yet is forever destined to rot, decay and cease to be. It's a beautiful, if slightly melancholic, challenge to the viewer to fully occupy and enjoy their coporeal selves, and by extension to fully embrace their day-to-day existence.