2021.8.26 – 10.1
Brand-name shaving cream, vending machines, everyday objects supersized à la Oldenberg… Nick Doyle’s work is rooted in the strategies of Pop Art, especially in its use of recognizable imagery. Though much of Pop’s frisson rests on a kind of playful ambivalence towards its subject matter—celebration or critique?—Doyle is primarily interested in the latter. He mines these familiar objects for their dark psychological undercurrents.
Everything Is Fine is the latest in the artist’s ongoing inventory of the props of masculinity. A bowtie, an oxford shoe and the contents of a toiletry kit are just some of the personal effects that coalesce into a portrait of the kind of American everyman, nameless and plural, that Doyle wishes to examine and critique.
Doyle reveals the futility of male-identified objects—a suitcase and the rootless freedom it might represent is instead imbued with a quality of loneliness as it reveals its empty interior; the water cooler, a space to congregate and compete at the office, sits depopulated and forlorn; a Swiss Army knife, peacocking its various instruments, partakes in an audience-less performance… All efforts at bravura seem doomed to fail.
Asphyxiating implements abound—nooses (two of them), the bowtie, a belt—as metaphors for the suffocating nature of this gendered ideal. For Doyle, masculinity’s narrowness, its fear of expression and emotion, is tragedy-bound. At first glance, though, such readings may not be apparent. The objects are rendered flatly and without affect, like photographs at the scene of a crime, but much in the way evidentiary documentation speaks to a much bigger picture, so do Doyle’s works.
Here, materials are not just a means to an end; they are endemic to the larger project at hand. Denim, Doyle’s preferred material, calls forth a large swath of American history. Drawing on indigo’s problematic importation from West Africa, its status as the defacto uniform of the working class and signifier of counter culture rebellion, denim is as insidious as it is iconic.
New to the artist’s vocabulary of materials is vegetable-tanned leather. With the simple transposition of this saddle-making material to his art practice, Doyle summons the mythic figure of the American Cowboy. He manages the implied ruggedness of that archetype with conceptual finesse. In Outlaw, the limp arms of a cactus spill out of a wooden suitcase. A set of dangling handcuffs, securing the cactus to nothing, come to represent the receding horizon of the American West, specifically the freedom and escape it has historically represented but seldom delivered.
Doyle contrasts the grandeur of the American imaginary with the humdrum of the everyday. No One Can Know, from the artist’s ongoing Executive Toy series, captures the weary resignation of the office. The wooden sculpture, an animatronic office worker at his desk, is activated by a crank arm that sets the gears in motion. The mechanics of the sculpture are left visible, exposing both the technical complexity of the work and the soulless repetitiousness of labor. The figure taps his foot distractedly, turns his head away from a monitor and opens a drawer concealing a sleeping miniature of himself, dreaming and defenseless.
Despite the exhibition title’s assurance that “everything is fine,” a sense of disquiet runs through Doyle’s vision of American life. Unassuming objects turn on a dime: an extension cord is fashioned into a noose, the glint of a razor blade entices, the image of a drain conjures a bottomless despair—all point to a deadly inevitability.
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