@ MOMA PS1
The work of Shane Townley is not what it seems. Or, it is exactly what it seems. Sly, these paintings are a mix of riddles and unanswered questions. Is it a simple landscape? Or, is it a careful prompt to larger questions and understandings?
A simple glance is all it takes to count the elements that comprise much of Townley’s work: a calm sky, a peaceful expanse, a line of trees not too far in the distance. Sometimes he shows us a road or path, some times not. The colors are soothing. The composition is familiar, peaceful in its predictability. But there is more here, much more and like the kitchen poems of the late Jane Kenyon and Updike’s urban wastelands, Townley’s peaceful mindscapes are anything but peaceful.
The opening sequence of David Lynch’s, Blue Velvet, features a long slow zoom into a classic American exterior. Crisp, clean, comfortable it embodies a storybook that is as much of a part of American mythology as is the dream that all men are created equal. Lynch, like Townley, toys with us. Because as we get closer the camera takes us from benign detachment into the top few layers of soil beneath the perfectly manicured lawn and it is here that we see a teeming hoard of writhing violent murderous insect life. In Lynch’s and Townley’s shared vision, the peaceful is not the truth. The peaceful is the myth, the mask that disguises the truth. A difficult disturbing truth we all share.
In Townley’s exquisite work we know there is chaos beneath surface. The expanse of land that takes us to the trees is false hope, unrealistic expectations that distract us from the pain and difficulty of the lives that are symbolized in that long slow walk. But it is the trees that are most telling: arranged in a synchrony of balanced meditation, they are a mirage. An idealized endpoint to life’s challenging frontier. Is there an other side? Is it as simple as stepping comfortably through the gaps between the verdant actors? No, endings are painful, ruinous. And the journey to the other side is never what we expect or dream or hope it to be.
It is this inherent deception that pushes Townley into surrealism. He presents the fantastic clothed in the realistic. Unlike Dali, this surrealism is subtle and idyllic. Perhaps, an even more devastating commentary than melting clocks and faces and not as obvious.
Shane Townley is an artist that asks us to think about what we don’t see. It is here that he excels. Because by giving us what we think we want, he forces us to see what is really there.
Clayton Daniels, Bask Magazine