An epigraph, Beaux Mendes knows, is an art form unto itself. “My paintings contain a double negative,” they write as an epigraph to the press release. “The surface works to undo itself and representation is obscured to reveal a subject that is not the image of a past, but an impression directly inscribed in it.” This statement—and the work which accompanies it—will take some time to parse. A sense of obfuscation is present in the fact that the more than twenty paintings on display bear the exact same title. One work appears, at most angles, to be an obsidian coffin; other vantages, however, reveal extra appendages built into one side of it. Another work appears at a distance to be a textured canvas, but reveals itself up close to be a rippling cross-section of eucalyptus wood.
Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park, from which Mendes draws the name of their exhibition, is named for its white-domed sandstone cliffs. In this way, it is a kind of false mirror of Washington D. C.’s Capitol Hill. Each location degrades the truth value of the other—one example of Mendes’s doubling-as-effacement. The entire exhibition can indeed be conceived as a rite which summons something to the surface, only to banish it, spanning topographical, historical, and linguistic registers. In one painting, what resembles a Corinthian column flickers into a fan of flame-like abstract marks. In another, an impression of Moses’s tablets are perhaps a reference to the Orthodox Jewish faith which Mendes rejected as a youth.
Ultimately, Mendes’s thesis is something more easily felt than intellectualized, perhaps most clearly in the abstract or mostly abstract works. They are unapologetically beautiful, with subtle palettes of olive, ochre, gray, and umber. Wood grain billows as a secret texture in one work; the central shape in another appears to have been swabbed on with a single stroke. Are they fully abstract? Or are they shadowed invocations of natural forms, like the Capitol Reef? Always suggestive, they are only occasionally divulging. In our world, there is a presumed order to things: where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Not so here. Each element is felt to be absolute, to have arrived into our senses with no forbears and no antecedents—all smoke, no fire. —Lisa Yin Zhang
Beaux Mendes, Untitled, 2021. Oil and acrylic on muslin, 27 1/2 x 20 inches. © Beaux Mendes, Courtesy Miguel Abreu Gallery. Photo: Stephen Faught