It was a warm day in February and I was walking with my friend on the Lower East Side. He was tripping acid and so was magnetically drawn to The Hole, a little nook of an art gallery and a classic institution of the NY art scene. At the time, they were showcasing Vanessa Prager’s paintings.
There was no one at the gallery and every surface of it was painted a clean white- the combination of these things made the gallery feel rather eerie and vacant. “This feels like purgatory,” said my friend, “or like the afterlife or something.” I agreed.
We quickly focused our attention onto the paintings- each one was huge, at least five feet tall, and smothered with layer upon textured layer of technicolor paint, to the point where the surface of each painting stuck out several inches from the canvas. All of the paintings were of faces- all of the faces were made almost indistinguishable by the heavy brushstrokes and abstracted colors.
We were in that gallery for ages, so I had time to think. I realized that by deconstructing her subject’s faces, Prager grants them anonymity- none of the faces could be recognizable as a specific person. They are nonhuman- in each painting, the actual form of the face is buried under layers and layers of paint, to the point where all we can see is a caricature of a person. The more I thought about it, the more I saw the connection between the ambiguity in Prager’s work and the ambiguity in all of our presentations of ourselves. In our appearances, we all put out sort of exaggerated versions of ourselves, technicolor versions, over saturated like Prager’s paintings. These appearances are striking but they hide us- we become less accessible and our personalities become more ambiguous behind them, just as the forms of faces become ambiguous behind Prager’s heavy brush.