Back in 2015, two critically lauded solo shows—at Night Gallery in Los Angeles and Chapter NY—catapulted Mira Dancy onto the art world’s communal radar. Then a promising up-and-comer, the artist, whose work has since been acquired by LACMA and the Whitney, among other major collections, has decisively cemented her reputation. Her third show at Chapter NY, “Psychic Nerve,” reinforces this trajectory: Through new seven paintings, Dancy pushes the limits of her fundamentally formalist approach to explore as-yet-uncharted spatial, philosophical and fantastical territories.
It has no doubt been a boon that Dancy’s work, spanning paintings, murals and neon sculptures, wears a refreshing, instantly recognizable signature aesthetic: female figures who take shape through sinuous, free-flowing lines by which limbs, hips, torsos—any or all bodily details, really—are stretched or otherwise elegantly distorted to echo and merge with the contours of semi-abstracted landscapes. Organic and otherworldly, the finished product carries a breezy surface appeal—one that initially belies the intricate and enigmatic subtexts packed into a given tableau. The concept, according to Dancy, is to enact a feminist stance on authorship while engaging with the cultural politics of the gaze; her depictions of fictionalized women often riff on archetypal portrayals of female nudity, originated by male artists, found in the Western art canon. The odalisque, for instance, makes varied appearances throughout art historical narratives and Dancy’s practice alike.
The seven paintings in “Psychic Nerve,” while not quite departing from the visual qualities that have defined Dancy’s artistic output to date, seem to harness and amplify the expressive power of her formal vocabulary, lending the series a heightened self-awareness—inevitably with existential undercurrents in tow.
Dancy recently moved to Los Angeles after spending much of her adult life in New York City; as with many other West Coast artist transplants, her color palette reflects this change in environment. Whereas her earlier works tend to feature high-contrast, saturated spectrums of reds, purples and blues—or else rendered with black pigment on white backdrops—in “Psychic Nerve,” bright tones of pink, cyan and yellow, mixed with muted shades, dominate the chromatic scheme. In practice, these colors accentuate the ethereal atmosphere that runs throughout these compositions—perhaps best captured in Planetary Drift (all works 2021), wherein a woman, her form outlined in an electric blue and filled in with cotton candy and hot pink hues, lies amid a hot pink mountain range below a pallid grey sky.
What’s also notable, in considering the inanimate dimensions of these scenes, is the apparent omnipresence of cosmic bodies in the vicinity of fleshly ones. An orb that resembles Earth as seen from outer space floats above the arched torso of the protagonist in Planetary Drift—who, with her head thrown back and eyes closed as she lies across the ground, emanates serenity. In Life Line, a woman gazes at a similar Earth-like sphere hovering over her palm. The motif, coupled with the paintings’ titles, triggers a profound dread and helplessness—must we scrutinize and fret over the impending cascade of disasters that climate change has already begun to unleash, when ignoring it will bring us some momentary peace and yield identical end results? The more fantastical imagery in the show lets us contemplate the bliss of ignorance, an escapist activity in itself. And yet, if there is hope, is it a promising-enough hope to devote the precious little time we have left to chase it—our failure to address global warming, which seems likely, means having to grapple head-on with consequences so momentous that merely contemplating their scope feels physically demanding.
Elsewhere, in Time Divided, a woman reclines on top of a giant, open book, her back turned away from an enormous, possibly ominous circular structure strewn with recursive, fragmented shapes—overall not dissimilar to the Italian Futurists’ attempts at depicting mechanized motion. In light of the painting’s title, it was perhaps the intention for this pattern to conjure the mechanical movements of a clock face, superimposed over what looks to be a celestial body emerging over the horizon. A pair of red birds soar, carefree, in the foreground. Meanwhile, two smaller, triangular canvases—Split Sky and Crosscut—dissolve into geometric abstraction, save for two birds flying across the latter.
It’s as though each painting is striving to understand or transcend into the infinite, but strictly on its own terms. And yet, according to the press release, the spaces crafted within distinct canvases nonetheless connect through a covert network of internal architecture, rendered on physically separate canvases. It’s in this dimension—as subjective experiences merge into shared consciousness—where a version of infinity may be attainable. —Rachel Small
Mira Dancy, Crosscut, 2021. Acrylic on canvas, 80 × 92 inches. Courtesy Chapter NY