Pareidolia describes the experience of noticing shapes, especially faces, where none exist—in clouds, electrical circuitry, or a brick wall. It's more or less universal, albeit thought to be slightly more pronounced for the creatively inclined.
Chase Hall—who grew up between Minnesota, Chicago, Las Vegas, Colorado, Dubai, and Los Angeles before settling in New York City by age 20—sensed that the phenomenon, for him, held meaning beyond an occasional cognitive glitch. For the artist, who is biracial, subjective reality as he experienced it frequently struck him as having a multifaceted nature, as if it were light refracting into a spectrum after passing through a prism.
This psychological effect, for Hall, has proved to be an indispensable framework in understanding the nuances of his worldview—and has subsequently informed pivotal developments in his practice. The nearly 20 new paintings on view in "Aleczander," the artist's inaugural solo show at Clearing, capture a multidimensional identity, imagined as a stylistically distinct mode of portraiture An expressionistic, mottled surface texture results from exposed patches of cotton canvas that function as highlights in each painting, the rest of which Hall renders through a mix of acrylics and coffee. The approach further underscores the composite, metaphysical orientation of the scenes.
"I think I turned to painting to articulate the things I couldn't articulate with words. In that, there's a mix of conceptual, storytelling, personal, this vicarious becoming—as well as trying to tether Black figure with white abstraction in this on-the-surface tethering of biracial reality in the stroke as well," explains Hall. "How can some of the white male abstract painters, like Clyfford Still and Jackson Pollock, get away with some of the ideas they've gotten away with—and how beautiful are some of the Black figures and draftsmanship of a Kerry James Marshall and Charles White?"
Hall’s subjects include various animals: a shark, an octopus, an elephant, and a lobster, among them. "A lot of the animals and references to nature stem from living in different parts of America and also just being obsessed with Animal Planet," he says. "And seeing myself in animals and spirits and monsters more than whiteness growing up—the elephant being this big, African [creature] that remembers everything but it's also afraid of a mouse; the octopus having to code switch and having to move habitats and having this nomadic, mysterious [existence]." In another instance, a man embraces a giant, grey dog—a homage, Hall tells me, to his Great Dane, Paisley.
What Hall characterizes as the "nomadic experience" of his childhood and adolescence gave rise to an early interest in art and literature—this ultimately laying the foundation of his education as a self-taught artist. Later, visions of Americana as depicted by Winslow Homer, John Singleton Copley, and similar painters made a lasting impression. Considering the broader genre of American history painting, Hall remembers thinking, "Even though they don't look like me, there's still a feeling of being seen and storytelling that I wanted to take more seriously…The only relationship to Blackness was like, 'Oh, look at this Black guy.' There was no agency, and that started to really upset me. So, I think a lot of that re-contextualizing of our past is just in the necessity to tell a story honestly—not in the 'white savior'-type of narrative that was told to me."
This looks to have manifested in Coming Home (2021) [pictured], in which a protagonist hangs off the side of a train as he waves a lamp over his head, smiling. Behind him, an expansive, deep-blue tract of sky perhaps signals that his destination lies somewhere out in the proverbial American West.
All-around, the image seems to evoke Hall’s itinerant youth as a core aspect of his autobiography. "Moving around America has given me a greater grasp of humans in America, and I feel very lucky in hindsight to have moved around my whole childhood," he shares. "That placeless-ness that I feel in relationship to the slippage of Black and white is that similar placeless-ness to home. I know a lot of people would like to pinpoint a home for you—when in reality my home is my studio, and wherever that is is where I'm thinking, and that's my relationship to place, in a way." —Rachel Small
Chase Hall, Coming Home, 2021. Acrylic and coffee on cotton canvas, 72 x 60 inches. Courtesy Clearning Gallery New York and Brussels