BY Simone Krug in Reviews | 08 JAN 19
Featured in
Issue 200

Celeste Dupuy-Spencer: Fusing the Formal and the Informal

For her show at Nino Mier Gallery, Los Angeles, the artist blends identities of religious saviour, politician, celebrity and cheap entertainer

BY Simone Krug in Reviews | 08 JAN 19

Celeste Dupuy-Spencer invokes the devotional in her portraits and landscape scenes. There is something hallowed in her depictions of the mundane – a gathering of women, a hem on a shawl, a man at an electronic keyboard. A light ekes in, casting an eerie yet pleasant glow. In some works, the artist employs a faint chiaroscuro, transforming ordinary moments into dramatic narratives. This show’s titular painting, The Chiefest of Ten Thousand (Sarah 2) (all works 2018), takes its name from a declaration of physical beauty in the biblical Song of Solomon: ‘My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand.’ The painting portrays an intimate sexual act, with the exposed back of a woman at its centre, kneeling like a penitent saint at the altar of her lover. This woman is plenty awkward – the outline of bra straps cut into her torso; her bony ribs protrude – yet her elongated, exposed musculature is imposing, even grand.

Celeste Dupuy-Spencer, The Chiefest of Ten Thousand (Sarah 2), 2018, oil on linen, 2,67 × 2,44 m. Courtesy: the artist and Nino Mier Gallery, Los Angeles

Baptisms, glossolalia, the invocation of the holy spirit and other religious scenes appear here. In Through the Laying of the Hands (Positively Demonic Dynamism), a man materializes in front of a congregation, arms outstretched as the horde lunges forward to touch him. He emits a paranormal ectoplasm from his mouth, a grotesque grey cloud with fragments of teeth, bulging eyes and other monstrous features. A priest in the corner calls forth this billow of darkness. In the White House (Perfectly Demonic Dynamism) features a similar mob who strain and claw their arms, this time to graze Donald Trump. Although he appears near a cross, Dupuy-Spencer’s Trump echoes a boxer by the ring in a pensive moment before a sensational fight; he is certainly no Christ. The artist blurs the notion of religious saviour, politician, celebrity and cheap entertainer.

Other paintings reproduce the pageantry of nature. In Lighting Shadows, Leaving the 99, the artist depicts a sunset as a violent, fiery hellscape. A swell of nervous brushstrokes recalls the theatrical parting of the Red Sea in Grand Panorama of the Wave (Fall on Your Knees). William Blake, the Romantic-era master of biblical suffering and flaming vistas, would surely approve. Elsewhere, a sheep and a lion curl up at the foot of a piano in a field – an oneiric landscape sown with humour.

Celeste Dupuy-Spencer, Darkness Is Not Dark (Light Shines As Day), 2018, oil on linen, 1,65 × 1,27 m. Courtesy: the artist and Nino Mier Gallery, Los Angeles

So many of Dupuy-Spencer’s subjects are endearing. Take the older man clad in a blue shirt clutching a guitar in Dean Dupuy Its Okay, painted within a cloud of younger images of himself, a kind of group portrait of an individual life. These smiling figures stand beside him, and emerge on the fabric of his shirt. They are ghosts of former, younger, thinner selves. He is a father, a grandfather, an important patriarch. In this stately depiction, he exudes an aura of familial love.

A sense of gaiety permeates Dutchess County Border (Matriarchs of the 90’s Line), a frontal group portrait of happy friends smoking cigarettes and drinking beer in a cluttered living room, their poses evoking both The Last Supper and a worker’s guild portrait – a fusing of the formal and the informal on a lazy Sunday afternoon. There’s a simple, palpable joy to this gathering of people who care for and support one another. Dupuy-Spencer’s friends, her community, are perhaps all she – and we – need.

Celeste Dupuy-Spencer, 'The Chiefest of Ten Thousand' was on view at Nino Mier Gallery, Los Angeles, from 22 September until 3 November 2018.

Main image: Celeste Dupuy-Spencer, To be titled (detail), 2018, oil on linen, 2,74 × 3,35 m. Courtesy: the artist and Nino Mier Gallery, Los Angeles

Simone Krug has been a curator at the Aspen Art Museum since 2018. Prior to joining the AAM she worked at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles. Her writing has appeared in Artforum, frieze and Art in America, among other publications.