As the decade of “status updates” and “selfies” passes in the name of social-media’s ebullient narcissism, Brian Calvin’s works accentuate the perturbing boredom of a population affected by endemic self-awareness.
Born and raised in California, Calvin is a master of mischievous “pausing-as-an-activity” portraits, his work becoming synonymous with the sun-drenched sands and relaxed lifestyle of Los Angeles. Hyper-exposed, bleary-eyed youths with glossy lips and crooked teeth pose for an unseen observer against the backdrop of what Calvin describes as “generalized glimpses of the California coast”.
Mastering a unique proficiency of composition in his portraits, Calvin assembles scenery, features, and expressions to loiter indecisively between states of abstraction and figuration. Thus, the characters of Calvin’s colourful eye-candy portraiture manage to all but evade narrative traits. What remains, captures centre stage nameless, story-less characters with provocatively parted lips and “dents du Bonheur”, suggestive of playful lasciviousness. Conjuring up images of Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren there is something profound and subtly charged about the spirit of melancholia, which permeates the seemingly vain and conceited faces of Calvin’s portraits. Simultaneously an intense sense of innocence and an aura of present-mindedness coat the colourful imagery.
Despite the chronicler’s manifestation in modernist figurative painting, which some might be excused for considering a cynical distortion in the name of narrative content, Calvin’s quietly disconcerting style has a more sincere quality. Rather than a caricature of form and figure, Calvin’s work muses the conundrum of a society, in which, consciously or not, we endeavour to influence the perceptions of others. Whether “stoic or stoned” Calvin’s aloof and emotionally cool characters imply a rampant monotony of selfie-culture and the increasing lack of human relations within it. Yet Calvin’s choice of colour and form covers the gloomy message of his subjects in an icing so delicious, the spectator is at risk of missing it entirely. And despite little or no sign of communication in his portraits, the close-ups display a sense of relaxed comfort within their environment and the unidentified spectator. Despite the grip of a “selfie-self-love-culture”, there is something decidedly comforting, uplifting even, about Brian Calvin’s enchantingly self-aware young subjects.