The universal, according to Leidy Churchman, begins with the specific. “New You,” an exhibition of new paintings and monotypes at Matthew Marks, is as good a beginning as any. We have reproductions of course workbooks, paintings of animals, branches of cherry blossoms and purely abstract works with a talismanic quality to them.
I initially read the title as sardonic, a trope of New Year’s resolutions and the self-help industrial complex. But Churchman is a practicing Buddhist and there is a Buddhist connotation to the phrase as well: the sense that at every new moment we begin anew, tied to our old selves only by our bodies and our memories.
The idea of flow, for instance, fittingly extends across a number of the canvases on view. Many depict what could be sky, such as the bubblegum pink My True Love, Giraffe (2021); the asteroid-streaked, floral-edged Queen (2021); or the pale blue Big Synonym (2021), which appears to offer a view through a skylight.
Though not present in all paintings, a matte black might be Churchman’s most powerful tool: the massive two-panel work Eternal Life New You (2021) is a seaside scene anchored by a black rectangle at its center. Black is the dominant color in another two-panel work of an alienating and starless outer space in which the earth looks like a peaceful, oversized marble, pulled from what appears to be a YouTube screenshot. (It is less peacefully titled Exterminate All The Brutes, 2021.)
Some of my favorite works in the show are of cropped iPhone screenshots. One painting depicts the artist’s mother in a fluffy white bathrobe, the small figure of the picture-taker evident in the mirror behind her. A strange and interesting detail: the strip across the top of the screen, which holds the signal bar, the Wifi and the battery, repeats three times. Another shows the icon for the iPhone calculator app, likely painted with a wet on not-quite dry technique, as the lines haze into each other.
Enigmatic and idiosyncratic, “New You” is both entirely specific to Churchman’s lived experience, while also ringing with deeply resonant cultural and aesthetic signifiers. See, for instance, one painting of a turkey-elephant hybrid—possibly the first ever depicted in the history of art—which holds the honor of granting the exhibition its name: a new you, indeed. —Lisa Yin Zhang
Leidy Churchman, The Flow 2021. Oil on linen 56 x 70 inches. © Leidy Churchman, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery