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Exhibitions

CATS WHO EAT THE CANARY

David DeCesaris

May 7 - 30, 2021

OPENING RECEPTION: Saturday May 8, 2021  6-8PM

The Jackson Junge Gallery is thrilled to present CATS WHO EAT THE CANARY, an exhibition of nine large-scale original paintings and one sculpture by Indiana painter, David DeCesaris. This is the gallery’s third solo exhibition of 2021 and DeCesaris’ first solo exhibition with the gallery.  

Enduring the rollercoaster year of 2020, CATS WHO EAT THE CANARY is a collection of artworks that express the outrage and frustration DeCesaris felt and empathized with many around the United States. Combining relevant political works and references to his childhood, CATS WHO EAT THE CANARY gives Decesaris’ viewers a glimpse into his history and current passions. Each of DeCesaris’s paintings inspire intrigue, leaving the viewer curious for more and often reference the exhibition’s namesake, CATS WHO EAT THE CANARY, “A person who appears self-satisfied or smug, especially while concealing something mischievous, prohibited or private.” 

DeCesaris’ paintings are often direct references to art history with the context of a contemporary narrative. The paintings that reference notable historical narratives draw on imagery from DeCesaris’ Catholic upbringing. From a young age, DeCesaris was exposed to religious paintings by the great Renaissance artists. THE ANNUNCIATION was one that always caught his eye and tended to stand out amongst the other references to the Bible’s stories. Archangel Gabriel was sent by God to the Virgin Mary and explained to her that she would conceive and become the mother of God’s son, Jesus. The Archangel in DeCesaris’s painting is the image of a man, embracing the faceless Mary. In Many renditions of THE ANNUNCIATION, Mary and Gabriel lock eyes, or, in more conservative paintings, Mary’s eyes are cast down. Displayed in DeCesaris’s painting THE ANNUNCIATION, Archangel Gabriel locks eyes with the viewer – like something out of DeCesaris’ dreams – while the viewer locks eyes on a faceless Mary. In this case, Mary, is a symbol for all the women that had their rights taken away from them in a single instant, DeCesaris’ painting captures the moment of a woman realizing that her life is no longer just her own. However, the arms of Gabriel are comforting and loving, portraying a sense of security that Mary did not know she needed. To finish the painting, the two are surrounded by the ever-present cats watching from afar and a dog and cat at Mary’s side.  

Diving into the creative process, DeCesaris has a unique way of getting to know his work. First is the frame support for the panel and then finishing the wood for the surface. Generally, DeCesaris builds multiple panels at a time so he can work in a series, though he does not envision a series when he begins. Many hours are spent “developing a relationship with the panel,” as DeCesaris puts it. Then, the precursory drawing comes to life. DeCesaris finds that his most successful works are “the ones that are sketched in, but not too much. I do put a lot of emphasis on the drawing before I start painting.” But then, “I have a decent drawing and when I start to paint I ruin it. I get this feeling of despair when starting to paint. I think, ‘I am never going to be able to save this painting.’” After spending countless hours with a completed series, DeCesaris begins to build the narrative. DeCesaris states, “Often I keep the piece up after completion, and then start to see the piece come to life. I start to realize where things are coming from and see the stories in the painting.” Often what finishes the composition, is a fish here, or rosary beads there – like many Renaissance paintings, seemingly random objects exist within the parameters of the painting, but carry an essential weight within the piece. 

Still referencing Renaissance works in style and symbolism, many of DeCesaris’s other paintings elude to his childhood. BARCELONA and LIFE AND DEATH reference the death of his birth-mother. At the age of three, DeCesaris and his six siblings would visit their Mother’s grave every Sunday. Starting around then DeCesaris began to catalogue the images his mind’s eye collected. Featured in BARCELONA is a large bridge, the same large bridge that he and his siblings saw every time they when to visit their mother. Above the bridge are the faceless monks from the cemetery, DeCesaris describes them as “a bunch of faceless men, discussing amongst themselves”. LIFE AND DEATH, features a man holding seven canary chicks. This piece directly references DeCesaris’s father and the responsibility he had raising DeCesaris and his siblings. Laying on the rug with him are two cats, Smokey and Boy.  BOY, CATS WHO EAT THE CANARY, IL VICINATO, LIFE AND DEATH and RED HERRING all feature Boy and/or Smokey, the cats who quickly became a part of DeCesaris’ life when his father re-married. Many of DeCesaris’ works feature one of these two cats, but more than that, feature cats and other animals that “have personality to express their feelings, but are unable to speak their thoughts.” While not constant, Boy is often featured in the painting as a reference to DeCesaris himself. “Red Herring” features Boy/DeCesaris in the center of the triptych with a look of defeat and resignation, with fingers pecked to bleeding by ravens. Flanking DeCesaris’ feline avatar are two smug humanoid figures: one swallowing a rat while the other has DeCesaris’ other common animal, a red fish, in his mouth. The fence below them features the words, “Go to Hell.” This piece expresses the outrage that many feel toward the previous administration, DeCesaris expresses, “The piece FUCKERS was a painting born out of exasperation; RED HERRING was born out of anger. There were so many distractions, Trump being the main instigator.” 

In conversation, DeCesaris began to tell a story that has inspired many of his paintings, “As a kid, I shared a bedroom with my three brothers. One night I woke up and a man was in the doorway. He was just standing there – and when we locked eyes he turned and left.” The man’s eyes are what DeCesaris remembers the most – eyes that make their way into many of his paintings; in this exhibition, the man's eyes can be found in THANK GOD AND ROBERT MAPPLETHOURPE and THE ANNUNCIATION. Creating multiple works that feature these symbols, DeCesaris eventually creates an entire series. He firmly believes that each piece is an individual work with its own story and agency, but acknowledges the dialogue they form collectively. DeCesaris states, “When people ask ‘what were you thinking?’ Usually I realize that there is nothing on my mind. My actions while painting are not calculated, they just happen. It is a state of meditation.” Through intuition, DeCesaris prefers the painting to flow out of his subconscious. He views painting as a space between thoughts: a moment of recognition. 

DeCesaris’ focus becomes increasingly philosophical, and has discovered a great kinship between his own thoughts and the writings of Susanne K Langer. DeCesaris states, “My reading of Langer confirmed my growing understanding of art as an arrangement of forms, shapes, colors and lines that were elements that had the power to exude feeling.” When viewing DeCesaris’ work, one can clearly see defined geometric shapes that have gravity in his work.  As DeCesaris’ portfolio has grown he has begun to comprehend reasoning for making art that was beyond talent and skill; most importantly, has formed a tighter bond of understanding between himself and the work he is creating. DeCesaris explains, “I can see the interrelationships of painting, sculpture, abstract, realism, writing, film, music, dance—all with a cohesive relationship to one another. Formal elements can be composed in a way that translated to feelings, passion and, most of all, love, whatever the medium.”

CATS WHO EAT THE CANARY is an exhibition featuring artworks by David DeCesaris. The collection references present day political topics, his personal history and art history with a contemporary twist.


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