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Scholar, 2023, oil on canvas.jpeg

Franklin Einspruch: Tangibilia

By William Corwin, June 6, 2024

Scholar

It’s refreshing to see an artist who revels in being self-consciously stylized, as does Franklin Einspruch.  In figurative painting, there is a school of artisans who clearly want the viewer to follow along with each intentional gesture and apprehend the “why” of the artist’s decision-making process: Leger, Ozenfant, Braque all embody this spirit at some point in their careers. The subject matter of Einspruch’s oil paintings is purposefully chosen to assist his aesthetic maneuvers. Crisp and comfortable, he uses simple images drawn from daily life that offer a basic and easily understood narrative or psychological setting: a couple making dinner together as in Dinner Prep (2023, woodblock print on masa) or making love as in Private Life (2022, oil on linen), or a figure tracking us over a shelf as in Bookstore (2023, egg tempera on paper).  We get the story in a glance, so the artist can dispense with naturalism and is liberated to engage our senses in terms of line, thickness of paint, and comedic and grotesque manipulations of his character’s anatomy. These manipulations act in service to his goal of flattening space and isolating and engendering a puzzle-like interlocking quality to all form—a kind of medium is the message subtext, but less McLuhan and more the stained glass windows of Chartres. Paint is flat, it has the capacity to embody specific pigments, and these are atypical of lived reality—things don’t have to look real—Einspruch simply reconstitutes his daily life in reverse based on the exigencies of paint, rather than making paint behave like whatever we think we see projected onto our retinas.

Tangibilia presents a series of recent oil on linen or canvas paintings, all narrating daily life scenes. Einspruch draws on a comic book visual sensibility as a grounding for his imagery.  This works on a literal level: like the panels of a comic, canvases are overwhelmingly rectangular or square, and the story moves from panel to panel—so seeing these paintings in a gallery, we get the gentle narrative of the artist’s life right away.  The simplifying tendency of many comics also facilitates the painter’s obsession with line and color and makes the works more challenging.  Unlike an artist like Leger, who simplifies faces to pure geometry, Einspruch adds a bit of wry humor in the tradition of E.C. Segar (creator of Popeye) or Bob Montana (Archie Comics), among many others.  He paints emotionally charged eyebrows, button noses, and bouffant hairdos galore.  So the artist’s challenge to the viewer is the question of is this funny like Popeye, or, like the stylized faces of Chartres stained glass paintings, or any number of carefully orchestrated modes of image making, is this simply a method of telling a story? Everyday images lend themselves naturally to dry humor or even mild caricature.  Scholar (2023, oil on canvas) depicts a woman reading at a long table, a stylized laptop resting next to her arm, and a stack of slim rectangles representing her investigative efforts at the opposite end of the table.  Are we interrupting her?  Is she bored? Einspruch obviously enjoys the problems that using his visual language can cause.  The strongest, and most enigmatic painting in Tagibilia is Private Life.  A pair of lovers wrestle in bed, their bodies tangled in a series of angles and stacks, much like the books in Scholar.  Wiggly glove-like comic strip hands emerge at different points in the tangle—indicating intimacy and pressure.  The faces are pressed against each other, their features are nominally different and androgynous, but the hairstyles are very similar, so the gender of the participants is rendered null and void:  this pairing is a geometric problem, a Gordian knot.  The impossibility of the pose is immediately apparent to the viewer: a pair of buttocks rest neatly on top of several other limbs, and we have no idea how they got there. But the painter’s aesthetic has rendered the situation tangible as a series of carefully orchestrated twists and turns.  In Private Life, Einspruch shows that an engaging stylized aesthetic makes it possible not just to walk like an Egyptian, but to make love like one as well.

THERE, 135 W. 26th St., through June 8th

Private Life, 2022, oilon linen.jpeg

Private Life

Dinner Prep, white line woodcut on masa, 2023.jpg
Bookstore, 2023, egg tempera on paper.jpg

Bookstore

Dinner Prep

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