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Kenney Mencher and Carolyn Meyer: in BLACK and WHITE
Editor's Note: This review was originally intended for publication in Artweek.

Both Kenney Mencher and Carolyn Meyer make use of the connotation of a black and white palette as antiquated in the exhibition in BLACK and WHITE , to opposite effects. 

Mencher presents thirteen oil grisaille canvases, ranging in scale from twenty-four by eighteen inches to seventy by forty-eight inches. Though his use of the limited palette immediately situates the works in an academic context, the imagery is approached with straightforward, economical rendering, aiming for depiction without fussing much over details. Like preliminary cartoons, his subjects are at their best when the paint is thin and loosely applied. Mencher's subjects of choice are middle-class white men--and occasionally the women who love them-- posed in clich├ęd Mid-20th Century cinematic settings. The paintings focus attention on the role such images play in constructing underlying ideologies of American culture.

Kenney Mencher. Mrs. Newlin's Ride, 2008; oil on linen, 36 x 48 in.

Several paintings build narratives around cars. Mrs. Newlin's Ride (2008) uses nostalgic snapshot borders to frame images, comic-book style, of an older couple and a Cadillac on Highway 44 through the American northeast. The narrative implies a joyous free ride, while invoking the general excitement for roadtrip tourism following the postwar completion of the interstate system, a time when gender roles seemed particularly entrenched. But as a cobbled together image, the painting is camp. The woman's horn rimmed glasses, the man's pompadour, the photo borders and the Cadillac fins signify an ideological era, making no claims to historical factuality.

In Sub Urbans (2008), a youthful Mickey Rooney, flanked presumably by his wife and child, grins out the window of a car, while a defiant prostitute and a bowlegged drag queen loom over them in a clunky but narratively evocative composition. The combination of elements aims to provoke an array of uncomfortable questions of the ways hierarchies of sex, economics, race, and gender roles are structured in our culture, and the painting teeters on the edge of ludicrous profundity. However, Mencher's jeering, slap-dash rendering undermines serious audience contemplation.

Kenney Mencher. Driveway, 2008; oil on canvas, 36 x 36 in.

With Driveway (2008), Mencher broaches the paradox mastered most notably by the painter John Currin, that of the elegantly campy image. In this simple picture, a man in suit and hat smirks at the steering wheel in his hand while a woman with dark lipstick pushes her bare breasts onto the driver side window, looking past him at the viewer. Seen from the perspective of the passenger seat, the image suggests a low budget Hollywood film, with approximated sets and shoddy costuming. The way the light hits the interior, the angle of the steering wheel in relation to the man and the car, and even the cut of his suit is cut combine to present the painting as a parody of itself.

Carolyn Meyer's paintings employ Impressionist strategies of figuration, while pushing oil impasto to gooey, Neo-Expressionist ends. In ten canvases, roughly the same size range of Mencher's, Meyer applies thick paint with a palette knife to loosely illustrate cityscapes. The buildings, clouds, and overpasses in Urban in Gray (2008) are rendered as subordinates to texture and color on the surface of the predominantly gray canvases. Cool browns and subtle greens emerge from the terrain of paint, making Meyer's nostalgia for bygone painting processes palpable. 

Meyer attains textures from frothy to spackled, dotted after the fact with splatter. Night Village, (NYC), (2008) makes effective use of this technique in depicting a dark city intersection, with dashes of light gray indicating the movement of cars and the blur of illuminated signage. 

Parapets and Bedlams (2008) proffers an ornately worked surface, with colors visibly mixed directly on the canvas. They congeal into a bleak, alienating view of the freeway leading to the Brooklyn Bridge. The tension between Meyer's luxurious treatment of the surfaces and the bare treatment of her subject matter suggests a sense of alienation and remove brought on by anachronism, akin to a Beat poet grappling with Facebook or a jazz musician wading through YouTube.

Meyer's material longing for the past is emphasized by the misty tonal range she employs, but Mencher may have deployed a nostalgic palette as a red herring. His images, verging on sarcasm, display ambivalence for an era embodying some of the more stubborn, pernicious social attitudes surviving today. 

in BLACK and WHITE was on view at Arthaus from April 2 through June 27, 2009. More information about Carolyn Meyer's work can be found at More information about Kenney Mencher's work can be found at