Brimming with vibrant colors, perspectival contortions, and elusive figures, Musa’s compositions—which are variously exacted in oil paint, colored pencil, crayon, marker, and watercolor, among other mediums—present surreal worlds dense with intrigue. On view through April 14th, this is Musa’s first solo show.
Large in scale, these physically immersive works host a jumble of characters both real and imagined—composites of memory and observation. Solitary figures rapt in thought are placed in ambiguous spaces or domestic interiors, hugged tight within the frame. Elsewhere, groups of figures with unclear relationships engage in cryptic activities. Take the strikingly odd Gout, 2018, for instance, in which a man presses against a wall as if to peer through it. Two men lurk immediately behind him, creating a stacking effect that collapses the picture plane and confuses the viewer’s notion of when one individual ends and another begins. Whether echoes of the same person or eery doppelgängers, all three appear unaware of the entities on the other side of the wall: a craning skeleton and floating phantom head. In other, less oneiric works, the largely ambivalent or at times even morose dispositions of Musa’s characters contribute to an atmosphere of existential anxiety pervasive throughout the artist’s oeuvre. Yet, despite this, Musa’s tableaux exude a sense of vitality through their dramatic lighting, dynamic compositions, and employment of mimetic patterning—such as the brick inlay of a building’s exterior, the diamond tiling of a kitchen floor, or the striped upholstery of an armchair—which provide frenetic visual rhythms for the eye to follow.
In using signifiers of the observed world to stage scenarios with enigmatic narratives, these paintings confound as they entice. Characters’ eyes often divert to some presence just outside the picture frame, in seeming avoidance of the viewer’s gaze. Furrowed brows and worry lines betray anguish even as the characters remain reticent. Quotidian actions—making a phone call, sitting on a bench, drinking a glass of wine—collide with the fantastic, unsettling our sense of a stable reality. In this way, Musa’s work makes the viewer aware of our unconscious attempts to impose order on what we see, thereby complicating the relationship between beholder and beholden, what is known and what is assumed.