In "The Narrative Figure," at David Richard Gallery (through July 4). four artists reanimate figurative art by examining personal identities that are as fragmented as the genre itself. Queens artist Esteban Cabeza de Baca is the exuberant star of the show, filling the gallery's front room with monumental canvases. His bright oil paintings approach absurdity, but are grounded in political commentary drawn from an examination of his Native American and Mexican heritage. Fragmented figures dressed in traditional Native American garments wander through desolate landscapes, encountering walls and objects that shimmer in and out of existence. The paintings possess some of the cartoon zing of the artist's New York contemporaries Dana Schutz and Jamian Juliano-Villani, with the accompanying jolt of a bloody past brought forward.
In a second room. portraits by New York artists Jeffrey Hargrave and Michael Dixon hang sideby-side. Hargrave gleefully co-opts the styles of neo-expressionists Philip Guston and Carroll Dunham, two white, heterosexual artists, to capture his perspective as an African-American gay man. Thick brushstrokes mark out black faces that stretch and oulge in works with acerbic titles such as Too Black for Words, and Loose Lips Sink Ships. Michael Dixon, who often explores his biracial identity through self portraiture, takes up the cause of the Black Lives Matter movement. He stares down the viewer with weary eyes in a series of oil paintings that quote Martin Luther King Jr. and reference Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow" in their titles. Raghead I shows the artist with teary eyes and a white cloth crowning his head. The work carries the emotional sincerity-if not the rich adornment-of portraits by Mickalene Thomas.
Daisy Quezada. the lone Santa Fe artist in the mix, uses a lace draping technique to coat articles of clothing in a porcelain slip. A bra is pinned against the wall by a dusty shovel in Sostener o Refrenar, and another undergarment peeks out from beneath a railroad tie in Sujetando, Resistiendo. Quezada grew up between two cultures, in the borderlands of the United States and Mexico. These skinny found objects suggest figures, while the discarded clothes chillingly mark their actual absence. It's not a step toward abstraction, so much as a way to capture a shadow of the female figure in the vein of Ana Mendieta's earthy silhouettes. Quezada's work is a reminder that throughout the exhibition, the figure is but a bridge to examining wider cultural contexts.
-- Jordan Eddy