Knees to Navel
“Knees to Navel,” Jo Messer’s first solo exhibition at 56 Henry, presents five oil paintings of women caught by often unseen currents of air or water. Sweeping strokes made with a wide-brimmed brush, which heap pigments on the far edges, create blusterous settings for the figures, who seem to be swimming in kelp-strewn murk or caught in torrential weather events. It can be hard to distinguish the outline of the figures: in I can't weather weather with you (2021) [pictured], for instance, one must follow the light pink highlights to pick out the shapes of things, such as shoes, knees, and limbs. The distortions don’t end there: the works are marbled and warped, as if seen through ice, and their proportions careening—on the right side of one canvas, a massive foot is planted along the bottom edge, the limbs joining the plinths.
The massive diptych canvas Once you have it, you'll never leave it (2021) extends around the corner of the gallery to span two walls, the left in shadow and the right in brightness. Indeed, the women which populate Messer’s paintings seem like they too could extend beyond the bounds of their canvases, situated in a world which exceeds a viewer’s abilities of perception, and resident to their own amorous bond.
Joe Messer, I can't weather weather with you, 2021. Oil on canvas, 37 × 49 inches.