Thursday, February 28, 2019

Sate Me

“Hecuba’s eyes are full of dreams of love and marriage. To someone. Someday. When the hunger has truly passed.”- from Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s grotesque horror story, Dinner With Jeffrey

I vividly remember the summer of 2017– the frequent returns to the fourth floor dimension of matte maroon painted walls and dimmed lights that enhanced the contemplative mood set by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Under-Song For a Cipher at the New Museum. Seventeen, full-length portrait paintings had quenched a need for Black—specifically dark skinned Black—representation that popular media still has yet to uphold without negative stereotyping. Portraiture began classically white and privileged. The art cannon remains bolted with mostly white men artists inside it. Yiadom-Boakye’s Black figures are contradicting that history. Formally speaking, the candid theatrics in their vulnerable black eyes, their slender bodies existing during an uncertain time, the subtle difference between skin hues of sepia, umber, sienna, Van Dyke brown, etc… there is something significantly endearing about a Lynette Yiadom-Boakye portrait.

Now, almost two years later, both Jack Shainman galleries in Chelsea promise a quixotic romance in Yiadom-Boakye’s latest exhibition, In Lieu of a Louder Love. Thus, on a fairly cold Single Awareness Day—Valentine’s Day for most—I again saw my undeniably dark brown skin reflected back, prominently displayed in large, monochromatic paintings. Much like Kerry James Marshall’s penchant for placing unambiguous descendants of Africa as pivotal vehicular points throughout his impressive career, Yiadom-Boakye presents a valid case for inclusivity in the art world by tenderly painting the Black figure. She paints them with masterclass proficiency, renders them with an arsenal of rich and lush techniques.

At Jack Shainman’s West 20th Street location, titles are absent (even on the website). Four paintings are in the front gallery. Two share a wall, split a breath apart like a traditional diptych. A dark brown woman with neat, straight-haired ponytail on the right and a dark brown man on the left fully occupy a canvas each, situated against white walls with arms on white tabletops. They wear white t-shirts. Their long, slender fingers prop chalky cigarettes up to their hidden mouths. The woman defiantly gazes out at the viewer, challenging whomever should question her, perhaps daring her to put away the unhealthy habit. The man, however, is internalized, his downward eyes concentrating only on that cigarette. This casually styled pair—seemingly escaping a classic Norman Rockwell illustration—advertise a sophisticated coolness, embodying The Gap meets Marlboro, their limber Black bodies strategically placed in leading roles.

On the middle wall, a smiling woman stares out directly—a reader—in a thin strapped greenish black dress and red tights. An open book lies before her. Whilst encased in an ominous, nearly pitch black background, she is triangularly arranged-- her bent legs, the area between her upper arm, waist, and knee, her extended arm, her arm above her knees implying. The master painters often incorporated mathematical symmetries in their compositions and Yiadom-Boakye is certainly no exception. Her opaque brush strokes also display a French Impressionist quality, whispering Édouard Manet sweet nothings onto canvases sleek with her quick gestures. Like the smoking woman in the diptych, the reader’s sclerae—the whites of her eyes—her teeth and glint at the side of her dress are gleaming as though a camera flash exposed the intensity. Manet may have used Black models, most notably Laure in Children in the Tuileries Gardens and Olympia, Yiadom-Boakye’s Black composites are not objectified props performing second fiddle to white models. Every figure feels vaguely familiar, like they may have existed in passing as friends, family members, strangers on street corners, celebrities, ancestral spirits. They are simple dressed characters without ornamentation, without exoticism.

In the gallery rear, Yiadom-Boakye’s Black bodies are sharing physical spaces, interacting, zealously smoking more cigarettes, dancing like Edgar Degas portraits brought to modernity. They wear muted pink tank tops, striped shirts, leotards, feathered tops, and tights, their charismatic forms either relaxed, intense, or poignant. A painting on the back wall suggests the exhibition title. A woman (wearing retro black framed glasses similar to Yiadom-Boakye’s real-life quirky fashion sense) leaning on her side overlooks a sleeping man. Red glasses lay above his closed eyes and his hands are protectively upright, fingers at his white collar. Her arm rests on the side of her face, the other in a delicate clasp, her gaze focusing intently on him. They are either at a grassy park or a clandestine backyard, lying on a red blanket, the shades of the shadowy hour signaling twilight. Perhaps she had been staring at him all afternoon, a fanciful woman reveling in the throes of a platonic or romantic relationship. Maybe he is not snoozing, instead puckering his full lips for a kiss. Either way, the painting suggests intimacy, suggests love—the kind of love Hecuba herself would envy.

Another painting screams My Bloody Valentine. Red is a hot and pulsing main attraction, seeming to thump sonorously like a wild heartbeat. In a vertical oriented composition, the seated solitary figure dons a crisp white t-shirt, black pants, and brilliant sanguine blouse with his gloriously long arms outstretched on a velvety crimson chaise. The orange red hue of the figure’s cropped hair almost blends into the fiery background. With his head turned to the side and his content pose, he is sharply outlined in this seductive palette interplay. The soft, beguiling forms makes one believe that Hallmark’s Mahogany line could use Yiadom-Boakye’s sensuous painting for holiday cards.

On the walk to the second gallery, I reminisce an unforgettable August evening. In a stimulating conversation with New Museum curator Massimiliano Gioni, Yiadom-Boakye revealed meshing up her source materials, collaging them together to invent fictional abstractions as a prose writer would do with a palette of words. Her figurative paintings— usually completed in one session— contain attractive individuals that do not look alike. She also insists that her writing and painting are not connected, that these practices are separate entities. Yet, Hecuba’s passionate dreams mirror the basic desires to see Blackness depicted in multifaceted complexity, to escape the monolith. Hecuba’s love deprivation may be a Black woman’s hope to bear witness to her own reflection genuinely depicted by a gentle hand. Hecuba’s meals— her gold digging boyfriends— seem a dark and damning metaphor of the art world. They’re the dead white men still outselling most living artists. Minorities wait in lines for a serving of praise to survive on. Sadly, only a select few will be cherished at a time.

West 24th Street continues the harrowing sentiments of In Lieu of a Louder Love, Yiadom-Boakye lusciously delivering transcendental narratives that challenge gender perception anew. In a small portrait, a handsome bearded man is profiled in a dramatically thick, greyish pink scarf— a pink scarf that takes as much compositional room as his face. His one sharp eye is downward, his expression pensive. Another man lets a wild white owl span out its brilliant wings affixed to his hand. A seated woman is laughing, a panting fox beneath her spread out on a black and white tiled floor. These enigmatic, warm-toned portraits feature murky greens and browns surrounding the figures with raw canvas revealed in jarring little pieces. It is if to deliberately escape the myth, the joke that one cannot see a Black person in darkness.

However, the grandest pleasure is four midnight blue panels —a quadtych— of dark skinned women in white leotards and hunter green tights, their arching bodies shaped like crescent moons. Three face the fourth—the fourth body facing them. Perhaps she is an instructor, guiding them into proper formation. Moreover, this series responds beautifully to a painting in the other gallery location. On a singular canvas, four male dancers are dressed in the same hunter green with one male interrupting the linear.

Yiadom-Boakye’s evocative Black figures fulfill a huge void in this post-contemporary age of painting. Their extraordinary presences are supposed to be here. The disturbing, eyebrow-raising stories found in the back pages of Yiadom-Boakye’s exhibition catalogues, however, propel the reader to reread like an avid viewer studying the intriguing contrasts in her paintings. Although Dinner With Jeffrey’s Hecuba showcases gruesomely bizarre behavior (aiding and abetting murder), she would eat her lovers’ parts with her family—ultimately devouring unworthy men in a succubus vacuum—and pine away for the fairy tale ending. In Lieu of a Louder Love is the urgent love letter that ardently confesses how much marginalized Black bodies matter to the one woman painter who would not deny us our due.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Cheesy Polenta With Pan Seared Tempeh

Cheesy polenta and pan seared tempeh always makes for a lovely, humble beginning in the morning. 

I love a good simple breakfast.
For the past few weeks, I have been creating little bowls of comfort food in this strange weather that hops from cold to warm. Polenta is a primary staple, usually boiled water and a modest helping of Bob's Red Mill Cornmeal does the trick just nicely. It's all about pouring and stirring at the right moment, keeping the lumps at bay.
Cheesy "grits" or cheesy polenta is very easy to make and super quick. I have been enjoying the Violife Cheddar. It melts beautifully and tastes exceptional. Plus, it was on sale at Mom's Organic Market. I love a good vegan cheese sale. The fried tempeh with a pinch of fennel seed is such a pleasant addition, adding crispy texture and flavor (thanks to my favorite spice blend-- berbere).
Overall, a great start to the day, especially delicious and beneficial with a banana peanut butter smoothie.

Cheesy Polenta With Pan Seared Tempeh Ingredients and Preparation

1 1/2 cup water
1 cup Bob's Red Mill Cornmeal
2 slices Violife Just Like Cheddar
3 tablespoon nutritional yeast
2 tablespoon olive oil (or vegan butter)
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup red onion
2 garlic cloves
1 8oz package tempeh, chopped
1 teaspoon berbere spice
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Bring water to a boil.
Add the cornmeal, stirring simultaneously.
Turn off heat and add cheddar, nutritional yeast, olive oil, turmeric, salt, and black pepper.
In a skillet, saute onions and garlic for about three to four minutes.
Add cubed tempeh, berbere spice, fennel seed, cumin, salt, and black pepper.
Sear until tempeh is browned on all sides.