Mariane Ibrahim is delighted to present "Stills," a solo exhibition of new paintings by Ian Micheal. The show will be on view in Chicago until August 13, 2022.
The new body of work attests to Micheal's keen observations of everyday life as it unfolded in the late 80s and 90s of the Detroit he grew up in, and later in Brazil, Los Angeles, and Oakland. The scenes of urbanity he portrays, such as a game of street dice or waiting outside the bodega, are instantly recognizable due to their timeless quality. These tableaus often unfold in the world with a bustling vitality, the hurried pace of cities, and bodies. Indeed, they are perceived so by the city dweller who hastily moves through space, rarely attending too long to what becomes mundane detail of the cityscape. Micheal’s work interrupts this routine. By suspending the moment, he defamiliarizes it, introducing a stillness and quiet that allows the viewer to dwell on the significance of the scene.
In the suspension of banal moments, Micheal’s work invites us to consider muted intimacies that saturate everyday life. Be it the brush of a comb against the scalp in a barbershop, an arm casually slung around another’s shoulders while waiting at the train station, or fingers curled warmly around a trumpet, these works speak to the proximities and caresses that constitute the quotidian. By capturing fleeting gestures that often fail to register, Micheal’s practice asks what it means to inhabit these affinities in a minor key.
Intimacy operates in different ways across the scenes Micheal stages in his work. The representations of solitary figures capture the closeness one finds with oneself, a vulnerable state that allows one the freedom to get lost in reverie or a moment of idleness. Physical touch, such as a finger rubbing across an eye or a hand propping up a cheek, portrays a familiarity with one’s body, reminding the viewer of the everyday sensations that arise in response. There is a majesty to the lone subjects of these works as they exist in sustained states of repose or pensive contemplation.
The social encounters Micheal depicts index a different idiom of intimacy. His figures are intentionally androgynous yet marked with a resemblance that conjures readings of the homosocial. The closeness and contact between bodies are left open for interpretation. Are these scenes of platonic proximity? Or are there erotic charges that exist between figures, transmitted through the points of physical contact that link them? Perhaps the intimacy is polyvalent, indexing both the platonic and erotic at once.
The stillness of these images produces a flatness that Micheal adroitly manipulates to draw the attention to physicality that may otherwise fade into the commotion of the urban milieu. The muted color palette Micheal employs contributes to the intimacy of the scene, suffusing figures with a soft luminosity that foregrounds the tenderness and poignancy of these all-too-familiar tableaus.