Anthony Cudahy paints the remnants of an ephemeral past, utilizing found photographs as source material and preserving the echoes of memory in radiant paintings of oil on canvas.. An exhibition of his recent work, The Gathering, is currently on view through February 12th at The Java Project at 252 Java Street. The exhibition is a beautiful allegory for the impermanence of memory and collective history as examined through personal narrative.
In this exhibition, Cudahy presents two large-scale oil paintings as well as several smaller works. Working with a sourced image found through the online One Archives at the University of California that depicts a gathering of a nameless group of young people at a 70’s queer camping retreat taken by Pat Rocco, Cudahy creates a personal narrative that builds upon the fragments of a history that is rarely at the forefront of our conversation. It is both a timely and important statement on how history can be erased, forgotten or changed, told through Cudahy’s personal narrative. The exhibition opens an important dialogue with the viewers, as queer history is rarely addressed by mainstream media. It is part of a larger conversation that is (excuse the pun) still coming out.
Cudahy brings queer history into the larger context of gender identity, as the figures’ are in numerous ways ambiguous. You can see the transformation and evolution across the exhibition, with Cudahy working on the larger paintings and smaller works on paper concurrently – each influencing the other.
Cudahy paints beautifully. The surface of each work on canvas abounds in texture while his colors fluctuate between the rich darkness of velvet and areas of bright luminescence that appear to be lit from within. Working and reworking the source image, Cudahy takes ownership, transforming and continuously re-defining the meaning of the finished piece. Picking apart the composition, figure by figure to create a rippling, breathing surface of lush color, Cudahy’s utilization of chiaroscuro bears a marked comparison to the canvases of Goya. Like a gathering of spirits, the figures modulate in areas of shadow and light across the larger canvases, while in smaller studies Cudahy repeats certain figures and gestures again and again, capturing new meaning in each iteration.
An essay by Marcelo Gabriel Yáñez, an NYU art history student that has recently been making waves with an article in UK’s Dazed magazine is presented adjacent to the exhibition. A decision that curator Dakota Sica left up to Cudahy, as the Java Project gives as much free reign as possible to its exhibiting artists. In his essay on the Cudahy’s exhibition, Yáñez writes of ephemerality, of re-imagining the original photograph as a queer utopia in a mutable form, able to re-shape the image into something new and imbuing it with meaning that stems from Cudahy’s own experiences.
Greenpointers had the opportunity to speak to Cudahy on these aspects of queer history and gender identity in the show. On describing the original subject of the source material and his approach, Cudahy is straightforward:
AC: I would say it’s closer to gender-ambiguous or gender-fluid than neutral. In the sense these figures exist outside of neat binaries (which anti-identitarian signifies to me) — potentiality and an attempt away from “one-correct-meaning” is something I’m interested in. Formally, painting this image so many times, repeating formations or cropping while dramatically changing the colors of moods is an attempt away from there being one scene being represented.
GP: A lot of your paintings focus on facial features, or gestures, would you consider yourself to be a portrait artist? What interests you the most in working from found photographs?
AC: I wouldn’t say portrait in the sense that I don’t really think I’m getting across the feel or “soul” of the people I’m painting. Maybe “figurative” is a better umbrella? I’ve always worked from photographs, and occasionally, lately painting (like the flower still life that entered one of the paintings in this show), but in this case, there’s also a specific intent on painting from queer history: a past that has been willfully diminished and erased. In a way, I’m arguing that the past is as (or more) malleable and filled with potential as the present/future.
When asked about the significance of the pride flag as described by Yáñez:
AC: The pride flag idea was a very loose association I made, not super concrete. I wanted to make sure those colors that had been bureaucratically taken off were represented, especially since they stood in for magic, art and sex!
It’s no news that Greenpoint is rapidly changing. Amongst the new developments (and closures), the local arts community has witnessed major growth. From the ever-expanding, high-caliber Greenpoint Open Studios, to a popular Friday night drink-n-draw to rival Bushwick’s BatHaus, to a NYTimes shout out of 106 Green on a list of not to be missed galleries – Greenpoint is gaining major traction. Both Cudahy, as well as the Java Project, seem poised at the center of all this momentum – a promising combination that speaks to Greenpoint’s continued shift towards an encompassing arts district. So what are you waiting for? Go see the show before it closes!