Family reunions, birthday parties, pickup basketball games, chess matches, pool parties. The scenes and people portrayed in Glenn Hardy, Jr.’s paintings represent the joys of ordinary American life — Black life — which in itself is an intention with extraordinary meaning. A self-taught emerging artist with instant appeal, Hardy’s style is a florid tempest of dashing color, vivid patterns, gestural brushstrokes, shifting scale, forced perspective, broad smiles, and character-driven portraiture. He describes his influences as including Kerry James Marshall and Norman Rockwell — two artists who each in their way, with very different aesthetics and divergent motivations, sought to elevate the sparkling quirks and underlying tensions of quotidian culture in “the real America.”
But to that roster, one could add the art historical legacy of the Impressionists, who sought out unremarkable subjects like still lifes and tea parties, the better to highlight the radical technique of their modern vision. In Who Am I If I Don’t Represent?, Hardy processes the parallel vectors of style and substance with a natural flair — resulting in works that are disarming in their suburban pastoral charm, lively and engaging in their thickly painted displays of beauty and ease, and pointedly critical of the lack of such medicine in the pervasive trauma-based stereotypes of Black men in American art and culture. In works like Happiest Hours, a backyard barbecue is painted in a conversation with Cezanne and Monet, whose compositions also took the opportunity to dive into pattern and texture that tablecloths and lavish dinners offered, filling in a calm scene with embedded emotion, courtesy of shape and color.
In Family Reunion and Check Ball, as with other familiar scenes of boathouses, Sundays in the park, and picnics in the grass, Hardy’s canvases may be welcoming, inviting and candid — but they nevertheless whisper a foundational allegation: Why must the default of ordinary life as a subject in fine art always been white life? In a climate of racism and bias, artists like Hardy counter not with testimonies of anger and violence, but with the empathetic strength that grows from tales of love. More than once, male figures are depicted, with shades of Kehinde Wiley, amid garlands and flowers; or with cupcakes, cheese boards, and streamers, acknowledging milestones and celebrations with the vibe of a family album but the firmness of a stake being claimed.
In Cutting the Net, a student-athlete is seen at the top of a ladder that is surely both a literal element of narrative and an assertive metaphor for the boy’s life. As the title implies, he’s performing a ritual of victory — it’s the prerogative of the winning team to take down the net as a further trophy. Confetti swirls; he’s focused on the task. The generic ubiquitous orange-sided folding ladder is rendered in fine detail, but instead of its warning label, the painting rewards the curious with this message in its place: “The mastery of anything lies not in the product, but the pursuit; the product is simply the manifestation of a practice. —KJM.” The message is not obscure, but it’s a terrific reminder that developing one’s craft and telling one’s story not only can, but should exist side by side. The paintings are compelling for the viewer; making them is a win for the artist.
969 Chung King Road, Chinatown; through Feb. 11; cjamesgallery.com.
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