Celeste Rapone: Nightshade

Marianne Boesky Gallery

Exhibition Review by Barbie Kim

Chicago-based figure painter Celeste Rapone opened her first solo exhibition Nightshade in New York, at Marianne Boesky Gallery on May 3rd, 2022.

The show includes a collection of nine paintings depicting stylized figures interacting with mundane objects in unusual manners and inside surreal spaces. Driven by personal connections, the figure painter creates work that brings individuals to a collective feeling. Works from Nightshade draw inspiration from both biographical material and cultural components reflecting peculiar moments of a “contemporary” everyday life. Rapone’s painting portrays an odd specificity; drawing sources from objects that are mundane yet definitive. His figures are stuck in an in-between space, oscillating between reality and fantasy. The objects that reminisce the particularity of life translate into a different language, unique and personal for each viewer. 

While the visual symbolism and intriguing figuration in the illusionistic paintings establish a snapshot of a narrative, it's the material of the paintings that really make the work shine. The materiality of oil paint shines through Rapone's work, expressing the language of paint. Photo documentation only partially captures the artist’s skill in color mixing, surface variation, and his manipulation of material.

Holiday exemplifies how Rapone communicates with color. The subtle color shift on the limbs of the monotone crimson figure and a clear edge between colors in the landscape forms a highly contrasted shadow. Altogether the color shift generates the heat of the summer sun in the far background of the painting.

Enthusiasts, 2022, Oil on canvas, 76 1/8 x 76 inches(193.4 x 193 cm) © Celeste Rapone

The subtle color variation in Enthusiasts demonstrates the artist’s expertise in creating a conception of a compressed space by illustrating light sources. The painting’s extreme precision and details are highlighted through the variation of surface treatment. Both Solicitor and Purists showcase the possibility of handling textured painting surfaces by creating vivid patterning and details, puzzling to the viewer’s eye.

The painting surfaces tell the relationship between a painter, her material, and her painting technique, with which Rapone builds portals to places and moments where it seemed like a distant dream. The works are not for the viewers to look into the artist's inner world but into all of us as a collective. The works from Nightshade embrace universal visual signals and make individuals connect to each viewer conveying a shared emotion of anxiety, longing, and nostalgia.

Holiday, 2022, Oil on canvas, 60 1/8 x 75 inches(152.7 x 190.5 cm) © Celeste Rapone

Nightshade is on view from May 3 to June 11, 2022, at Marianne Boesky Gallery at 507 West 24 Street.

Other information for media:

Artist’s instagram:@celesterapone

Gallery website/press release.