Text by Clare Gemima
Images by Roman Dean
Bockhaus’s Anti-Christmas Special, by Ryan Bock
Ki Smith Gallery, 197 E. Fourth St.
Ryan Bock’s signature black, grey and white paintings usher viewers into a circus-y soiree hosted by an East Village favorite and locally celebrated space, Ki Smith Gallery.
Bockhaus’s Anti-Christmas Special presents a reactionary narrative storyboarded through gouache and acrylic compositions on paper. 15 works created during the early stages of the pandemic showcase themes of anti-establishment, anti-celebration and anti-consumerism…. (although nearly all of the work has already sold).
Bock’s post-traumatic and politically activated pieces reflect the sinister and Scrooge-like disdain of all matters celebratory occurring in 2020, most especially from the perspective of an American audience. These imprecise paintings express the torturous moments that we were lucky to have survived during our last year.
By combining cubist methods, historical/religious pictorial references and a personal opposition to conforming to the idea of “Christmas,” Ryan has depicted his own take on the undeniable (and sobering) socio-political heist of COVID-19’s zeitgeist.
Many of the self-described “divisive” artist’s paintings in this show would usually operate as drawing studies or preparatory sketches for larger scaled work. Having walked past Ki Smith Gallery on a night before the opening, I watched Bock paint the outside of the building with huge black, grey and white Christmas tree-like iconography. His sensibility in using huge brushes to tidy, tight, graphic corners was so technical and blatant, even in the dark. For the most part, the pandemic circumstantially forced Bock to work to a tighter and smaller size.
For a creative that welcomes a street-art and muralistic vocabulary, Bock has masterfully worked against his restrictions to present a body of work that is limitless, both in practicality and scale. On the contrary, these paintings are even more special because they are original one-offs with zero editions. No reproduction, runs or re-monetization. An artist who (finally) does not know how to depend on (or use) photoshop and is voluntarily and conceptually opposed to the commercial nature of bureaucratic bullsh*t.
Some of the work is visually derivative of historical moments, such as the Jan. 6 domestic terrorist attack (Navigating the Halls of History, 2020) ... or pop cultural moments that are now memes (McMahon Gets a Haircut From There then-Future President and Friends Circa 2007, 2020) ... and from older but just as bizarre cinematic moments (Christ Handgun, 2020).
For me, the takeaways from Bockhaus’s Anti Christmas Special are found in the magical moments in the works themselves. Convoluted forms reference horrific lived moments while exposing the artist’s comprehensive knowledge in rendering refracted, cubistic gestures. Forms collapse, undulate and oscillate so many times over and over again.. it is difficult to digest that the work, which also transforms a zillion times depending on the viewer’s proximity, has been made merely with two shades and one color.
Perhaps there is something festively holy about it after all…
Bockhaus’s Anti-Christmas Special is up through Dec.23 at the gallery, 197 E. Fourth St. between Avenue A and Avenue B. Hours: Wednesday-Sunday from 12:30 to 6:30 p.m. Alternative times are available by email@example.com.
Clare Gemima is a visual artist and arts writer from New Zealand, now based in the East Village of New York. You can find her work here: claregemima.com