Los Angeles-based self-taught painter Mario Joyce is featured in this temporary venue before the official opening of the UTA Artist Space in Midtown. The 14 paintings on view are notable for, among other things, their thickly impastoed royal icing gobs of oil paint and pulsating, practically ambulatory color. Those luminous, glowing yellows, greens and reds gives Joyce’s work the look of stained glass when set against the earthy vintage bricks of Pullman Yards, like windows into some alternate reality.
It’s a fitting presentation for the artist’s work considering the predominance of portals in Joyce’s own paintings. His works feature windows and mirrors that pull you into the scenes, while also siphoning off the cresting waves of energy in all that swirling, pooling paint like a psychic release valve. Growing up gay in rural Ohio, Joyce’s sense of isolation comes through in the proxies who occupy these paintings, set against a verdant landscape that feels like a respite and comfort.
Those windows and doors aren’t the only portals in Joyce’s paintings. Joyce’s subjects’ bodies also function as beckoning windows into another time and place. Joyce weaves vintage photographs from the ‘60s to the late ‘90 into his paintings. There are momentous events culled from science magazines, National Geographic or Life, integrated into shirts or pant legs or torsos. Photographs appear on kitchen floors like “A Wrinkle in Time” void opening in the universe. Well-appointed dining rooms, space, Civil War battlefields, scenes both quotidian and celestial are cut from magazines and blended into Joyce’s works. They offer vivid contrast with the small, human-scale kitchens and living rooms occupied by Joyce’s characters. Many of the paintings are graced with images of space, of solar systems beckoning, promising some escape from earthly realities.
A small alcove gallery offers a footnote to the exhibit which may also turn out to be its key. In that space Joyce’s own vintage family photos are hung with miniature clothespins on a length of twine. Those images are a grounding in the complexity of Joyce’s portraits which often frame young Black men in enveloping swirls of paint. Swaths of blue team like a roiling sea underneath one man’s feet in “Seance.” In “Voyeur” waves of green threaten to swallow a man beneath a landscape of crops. It’s an image blending past and present, reminiscent in look and tone to the plants swirling around Barack Obama in Kehinde Wiley’s now-famous portrait.
Equal parts charm and pathos, Mario Joyce’s paintings are filled with tenderness, conflict, longing and a feeling that beyond the contortions his men face on earth, there are all of those waiting ancestors and Milky Ways.
VISUAL ART REVIEW
“Mario Joyce: A Stranger’s House That Is Our Own”
Through Sept. 24. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays. Historic Rail Park at Pullman Yards, 225 Rogers St. NE, Atlanta. utaartistspace.com, pullmanyards.com.
Bottom line: Haunting images set lonely figures against a lush green landscape and speak to a refuge from pain in the lessons of the past and the promise of the future.