Juxtapoz Magazine – Nightshade: Celeste Rapone @ Marianne Boesky, NYC

Janice K. Johnson


Marianne Boesky Gallery is pleased to present Nightshade, Celeste Rapone’s first solo show with the gallery. For this exhibition, the artist will debut a group of nine paintings. In her newest body of work, Rapone continues to examine the potential of painting through the human form. Drawing inspiration from her native New Jersey, Rapone seeks to communicate both personal and collective feelings of anxiety, longing, and nostalgia experienced in contemporary life. Nightshade will be the artist’s first solo exhibition in New York and is on view May 4 – June 11, 2022, at the gallery’s 507 West 24 Street location.

Rapone’s works focus on the figure, often centering on women protagonists whose bodies impossibly contort and twist up to the confines that Rapone creates within the painting, or at other times capturing a tender exchange between a pair of figures. Rapone produces her works without preliminary drawings, gradually building the compositions of her paintings through a dynamic interplay between scale, color, pattern, and the shapes of the human form.

In the settings of her paintings, the artist populates the space with an array of allusions, pulling from art history, pop culture, autobiographical sources, and drawing influence from the stylized figuration introduced by the Chicago Imagists. Her debut New York solo show Nightshade brings Rapone back into proximity to her hometown in New JerseyA complicated feeling of nostalgia for her suburban upbringing inspired Rapone to infuse these works with subtle references to that setting: the patterns of New Jersey Transit bus seats, the Cutco knives that her older brother’s prom date sold when Rapone was growing up, and the rustic color palettes of her Italian Catholic home. These nods to her upbringing, however, only provide the backdrop for more complex examinations of the anxieties and disconnect caused by societal expectations. For instance, in Rapone’s painting Purist, a figure is shown hunched over a terrazzo table, transfixed by the act of slicing garlic with a razor blade. On the figure’s left shoulder are markings of cupping therapy, a self-applied remedy the artist has used for her shoulder pain. To Rapone, these indicators of precision mirror her studio practice, which is rooted in an intensity toward the formal elements of painting. 

Ranging in scale, each work within the show is unique and multifaceted in its development. At times, Rapone has a narrative in mind from which a thematic environment evolves for her characters to navigate. In others, the onset of a work is driven by formalist concerns, in which the artist begins with a unique color configuration or an abstract composition of shapes that then influence the formation of a painting’s scene. The resulting forms of her figures, whose bodies defy the rules of proportions and scale, are both undeniably present and vulnerable within the canvases.

“I imagine these paintings as a synthesis of my everyday experience as a painter in Chicago and projected realities of women interacting within their own sets of circumstances, in many cases informed by my nostalgia for and removal from suburban New Jersey. I became really interested in negotiating these overlays as a point of entry to this work. Posing these initial narrative questions gave me something new and unpredictable to respond to in the studio,” said Celeste Rapone. 

Among the diverse presentations of characters and narratives in Nightshade, Rapone probes through a multi-layered approach the roles of subject, artist, and the viewer. Her figures dominate the scenes of her paintings, and yet, in the way that their bodies are squeezed and cropped into the canvas’s frame, they remain exposed. To this extent, the works become self-referential allusions to Rapone’s artistic process as she navigates the technical problems found while creating her paintings. On a broader scale, the perceived tensions of her protagonists who confront, or at times fail to confront, the pressures of contemporary adult life become a common thread throughout the works, allowing for a delicate interchange of humor, anxiety, and introspection. 





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