Robert Grunenberg
BRANDON LIPCHIK
Above the surface

Robert Grunenberg is delighted to present Above the Surface Brandon Lipchik’s new solo exhibition at the gallery. Lipchik’s images, rendered on the computer and then transferred by hand to canvas, revolve around the pool, the backyard, the neatly mown lawn as physical manifestations of the American dream, the garden and the suburb as mythologically charged sites of homoeroticism and death. Earlier works by the New York artist, who was born in 1993, such as the paintings in the exhibition Windows into Exile ( Robert Grunenberg, 2019), were still playful like digital rococo, while in his show Vision of Song (2020), Lipchik paid homage to the great American poets, to Robert Frost, to the beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, to James Baldwin, and above all, it alluded to the gay poet and transcendentalist Walt Whitman (1819- 1892), who sang of the dawn of industrialization, democracy, indigenous culture, and a spiritual experience of nature. Whitman fits so well into Lipchik’s repertoire because he eroticizes the American dream of democracy like a male body. The paintings look as though Whitman’s electric, communal body has splintered into limbs due to collapsing democracy and burning nature. In the recent paintings from Above the Surface, culture and nature are completely interpenetrated, the boundaries between external and internal experience dissolve. In his latest cycle, the dark psychological tension that builds literally pushes up to the surface.

Above the Surface mirrors Lipchik’s earlier works as a kind of meta-commentary—like the reflection of a reflection, a mirror looking into the mirror, the self lost in its own image, the diamond dangling over the edge of a pool—in whose facets reality kaleidoscopically refracts. Lipchik shows his subjects from many different perspectives at the same time, the perspective of drones, surveillance or zoom cameras, selfie sticks, tools that simultaneously record the body from different angles. The spatial views, interlaced as in expressive or abstract painting, that Lipchik morphs together on the computer, the avatars he creates take on an even more crystalline and hard-edged quality. The cubist, collaged aesthetic of the figures, who stare into mirrors, at smartphones and water surfaces, recall early 1980s computer animations, such as the Paintbox characters in the Dire Straits video Money For Nothing (1985). In his painting „Elizabeth Taylor’s Reflection“ Lipchik has an avatar wearing the unmistakable ruby necklace and the matching earrings gaze at the mirror-smooth surface of the water. Yet this assembled, clunky figure bears no resemblance to Liz Taylor, nor to any woman for that matter, but is genderless. Lipchik reduced the recognition value to a minimum, leaving only the jewelry and the rapt gaze at the reflection.

The avatar could represent anyone, a housewife; a gay, camp lower middle class child; the artist himself.  Lipchik is not concerned with resemblance, not even with human likeness. The motifs of reflection as the projection of a fixed, hardened identity and of water as the expression of a permanently flowing identity that is always constructing and constituting itself anew permeate his entire work. Connected to this is the fact that Lipchik applies the concept of “fluid,” flowing identity not only to the sexes, but also to human and non-human life, or to humans and objects. Over and over again, the avatar with the hose appears, watering itself autoerotically, as it were, like a plant, gardener and garden at once. Lipchik also translated the motif into a 3D sculpture, with body parts, hose, and fences protruding from the wall, as if from a vertical water surface. Of course, the avatars reflecting and photographing each other bring to mind the Greek myth of Narcissus, and the new series of works can be viewed as an ironic commentary on a narcissistic society that is only reflected in its representation in social media, for whom nothing is real unless it has been photographed, filmed, and posted, But that would be too shortsighted. Lipchik’s new images are more mythological than Freudian, perhaps closer to Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the whimsical gods of antiquity than one might think.

It is these dissolving transitions between civilization and nature, reality and virtuality, the material and immaterial, that Lipchik addresses in Above the Surface. His avatars resemble non-binary figures of thought. While Vision of Song told of the destruction of the earth and the dissolution of democracy, Above the Surface conjures up a kind of post-human twilight of the gods. As in the TV series American Gods, gods have returned to earth, in this case to deserted white lower middle class suburbs. While in the series the “old” gods of indigenous peoples, of former slaves and immigrants, compete against the “new” globalized techno gods, Lipchik simply morphs them together. They are not really gods, but goddess-nymph memes, avatar containers filled with new speculative narratives. This is emphasized by Lipchik’s kaleidoscopic visual language, in which myth, technology, and magic intersect.

For Lipchik, who grew up in the conservative working-class town of Erie, Pennsylvania, his latest series is a return. Under cosmic starry skies, in sparkling pools, a speculative story unfolds about class, sexuality, identity, and ecology. Above the Surface returns to the moment when one recognizes oneself in the water, in the mirror, in the avatar of a game, and senses its future manifestations, in Audre Lordes’ words, “nameless and formless, about to be birthed, but already felt.”