Robert Davis and Mike Langlois, "New Paintings," May 3-June 1, 2002, at Monique Meloche Gallery, 951 West Fulton Market, Chicago, Il. 60607
Heavy Metal music is dangerous. Aggression, doom and death are its common themes. What many can't see is its cathartic nature. Metal does not rebel against the system, rather vents its anger against conformity and social injustice. The collaborative duo of Robert Davis and Mike Langlois understand Metal, and for their recent exhibition of five oil paintings composed a narrative that would make Luc Tuymans jealous. Their story lacks a cohesive plot and time frame but does possess one angry character, the essence of Metal itself.
Crowd is a large scale, horizontal, red monochrome that captures a moment of unity. The painting depicts a group of males head banging and body slamming in a mosh pit. For metal heads this aggressive action functions as social tool, a meeting place for those who don't have the skills to cope with the irony of life. To people outside of the sub-culture of Metal the mosh pit might seem like a doomsday "cult" gathering. Yet the ideas behind the mosh pit experience are about transcendence and identity. In order to achieve the sublime, participants must endure pain.
Head is an oversized portrait of Jeff Hanneman, once the guitarist of the legendary trash metal band Slayer. For the heroic portrait, Davis and Langlois work in a Caravaggesque chiaroscuro. The artists manage to create a dramatic atmosphere in which the light that shines in Hanneman's forehead provides him with a dangerous stare worthy of the Antichrist. Another dramatic picture is Hemlock, an enigmatic rendering of a poisonous plant against a textured cerulean blue background. Hemlock, needless to say, is a mark of slow death and anguish.
The most upbeat piece in the show is Meth Lab, a painting inflected by yellows, mustards and browns. It depicts a room crowded with drug paraphernalia. Areas of the painting are handled with washes and drips of oil paint. This loose quality, not often found in a Davis/Langlois painting, gives a sense of depth to the surface that seems to be a departure from their characteristic flat and illustrative style. Although Meth Lab is a fun painting, the idea reeks with decadence.
The last painting in this loose narrative is Water, an image of an underwater scene. A glare of white light in the surface of the blue painting works as bait for dual analysis. Is this painting about suicide? Or is it about redemption? Who knows? But one thing is for certain -- aggression is ever present in the show and that is a good thing, even if you don't enjoy Metal.