Notes from the Arts + Crafts Research Studio of Andrew Cornell Robinson
John Jurayj, a talented young painter, plumbs the landscape of memory in his second solo exhibition at Massimo Audiello. This new body of work includes a series of colorful paintings and works on paper that operate in an ambiguous space.
Much like painter Mary Heilman’s serious but playful approach to paint and Brendan Cass’s infantile palette, Jurayj’s abstracted landscapes have rich surfaces. Some sparkle and appear to be on a traditional chalk ground of deep rich flat color that is abruptly interrupted with slashes of bright energetic paint spatter and stroke. Other paintings reveal bold lines that strip away the painted layers to reveal a reflective colored Plexiglas ground in which reflections of the room and the viewer become a part of the work.
In an uneasy manner the artist is taking us away from real world moments through his distant cool focus on color and surface. Yet upon a closer look, below this visual activity are buildings and cities, dwellings bombed and burning. The subject matter of the paintings, central to the artist’s personal history, is inspired by the pointless wars of his ancestral Lebanon.
Once a vacation destination for stylish jet setters before war tore the towns and people to shit and continued for a dismal generation. These paintings capture the horror with colorful tricks upon luscious surfaces to put us at ease, as if we might find some calm escape for a moment in gazing upon impotent abstraction.
Amidst the body of robust war-torn canvases are several powerful portraits on paper. The eyes of various men — Lebanese political leaders — have been burned away as if with a cigarette in some fetishized moment of punishment or perhaps through a blinding unleashed by national or ethnic pride. These portraits of their blindness exhibited in juxtaposition with the explosive paintings bring down an indictment on the world’s deciders.
The spiritual and intellectual comfort I might have wished to find in an exhibition was replaced with a welcome reminder of our own times. The playwright Eugene O’Neill captured the spirit of moments like this rather well in a letter he wrote to his son shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
“It is like acid burning in my brain that the stupid butchering of war has taught men nothing at all, that they sank back listlessly on the warm manure pile of the dead and went to sleep, indifferently bestowing custody of their future, their fate, into the hands of State Departments, whose members are trained to be conspirators, card sharps, double-crossers, and secret betrayers of their own people; into the hands of greedy capitalist ruling classes so stupid they could not even see when their own greed began devouring itself; into the hands of that most debased type of pimp, the politician, and that most craven of all lice and job-worshippers, the bureaucrats.”
Artists in a time of war find ways to respond, some turn inward, others outward, radicalized and poetic on a fine line that allows us to turn away from the landscape confronting us, but only for a moment. And when that moment is over we return to the here and now, more energized and clear-headed. Jurayj’s personal is political and offers us a succinct response to the blind governors and the sleeping mind in the face of stupid, stupid, stupid war.
By Andrew Cornell Robinson, Artist
Written for the Gay City News
John Jurayj “Not Here”
Through 22 December
526 West 26th Street No. 519
New York, NY 10001