The Pea Stakers
Upon entering the gallery, the first work is what looks to be a pretty, Monet-esque pastel drawing depicting patches of lavender and lilac with just a hint of pearly pink and sun-blonde yellow. Though the drawing threatens to dissolve fully into abstraction, a series of distinct blotches of what look like stones, or maybe a turtle, suspended upon the surface of that periwinkle water, hold the eye. Then things take a turn for the weird: on the facing wall is a drawing of a white girl in a t-shirt and yoga pants. Then another. Then another. John Kelsey’s “The Pea Stakers”—his third exhibition at Galerie Buchholz—is an offbeat meditation on mediation.
The girl in these drawings is the kind of girl who has both a thigh gap and a bubble butt, the girl who might bully you in school. Across twenty pastel-on-paper works, Kelsey captures Lily Collins in the hit Netflix show Emily in Paris, which follows an American fashionista gallivanting around the City of Lights. Some of the scenes Kelsey selects, often mere moments apart, are delicately detailed—such as one in which Emily holds a pastry in front of the sunny facade of Parisian buildings—while others are stormy, ill-defined: lights streak behind the figure and strangers dissolve into the background, all but outlines. At some point, the sun sets, and Emily is bathed in a dark purplish glow. Her face sports a troubled look as she jogs away from the impending gloom—a spectral take on the corny and distinctly shadowless TV show.
Continue along on the opposite wall and you’ll encounter Kelsey’s “Enigma” series depicting loops and coils of dog turds, set upon delicate pastel and cobblestone background. Continue down the wall and you end up back where you came from, only to see that that first drawing has also gone to shit. On top of the too lovely faux-Impressionist dog-turd drawings and the stalking of Emily’s jog are two drawings of the camera that shot the Netflix show and also, Oculus Quest that simulates the gallery space. —Lisa Yin Zhang
John Kelsey, Emily in Paris 1, 2021. Pastel on paper in artist’s frame, 73 x 53 cm [left]. John Kelsey, Emily in Paris 2, 2021. Pastel on paper in artist’s frame, 73 x 53 cm [right]. Installation view: Galerie Buchholz, New York 2021