Justin Liam O'Brien and Celeste Rapone "Rose-Tinted" At Monya Rowe Gallery

Monya Rowe Gallery

November 29 -Jan 5

224 30th St #1002, Manhattan

Justin Liam O'Brien and Celeste Rapone are two painters dealing with the human form in a tight spot. Their work unifies through the process of fitting those bodies into a space, however comfortably or uncomfortably that may turn out. Whether that space be a domestic one, the space between or within another body, or even the space of the picture plane itself.

Justin uses a sort of geometric logic to fit the boys in his paintings together. In “I Feel As If I were Protecting You” squares and cylinders meld together to form the tube-like arms of two figures in a lopsided embrace. They're framed on either side by a symmetrical framework of a closed window and two halves of a tall, thin,  gesturally painted houseplant. The left and right edges could theoretically wrap around, as if this scene could tessellate on forever. In “Boys Bathing” a pair of male figures appear almost globular, their arms and legs blending and melting into the dark glowing blue that they're wading in. They're spreading their legs for each other, but the murky water obscures enough for the unseen to remain mostly unseen. There's a tenderness in its eroticism. But an insecurity as well. How they're brushed on in soft gradients that feel round and sometimes wet. How two bodies can slide so perfectly together, but in the next moment could slip apart.

Celeste Rapone brings a lexicon of domestic objects along with her figures. There is loving attention paid to the inanimate in Celestes pieces. A zebra print rug or bottle of Keystone Light become extensions of the bodies they're corresponding to. In a painting whose name I'm regrettably forgetting, a pair of electric blue Crocs glow upon the feet of a female figure. She dons a fuzzily rendered pink tracksuit, the “medium” tag remaining plastered to the suits behind, painted to look very much like a real sticker. She huddles over an oversized checker board, painted flat on the surface in bold squares of thick black and red. Her body fills the whole space of the rectangle, enveloping these objects into her form. Something similar happens in “Girls Girl”. In this piece the lounging female figure is left mostly to our imagination, her arms tangled together and only a single eye visible on her face. But every pleat and fold of her blue jeans and Gucci belt are given to us. The figure occupying the space becomes almost a vessel for the things on and around them. She could disappear into those blue jeans and we would be none the wiser.

The gallery itself doesn't cover much surface area. And there are several pieces in this show. But they're not overcrowding one another. They've managed to squeeze paintings into tight spaces, hugging the corners of narrow walls and nestled close to fire safety equipment. Justin and Celeste make a small space feel both cramped and cozy.