56 HENRY is pleased to present Small World, an exhibition of new work by Clayton Schiff, on view from December 10, 2020 through January 17, 2021. Small World marks Clayton Schiff’s first solo presentation with 56 HENRY.
Et quid amabo nisi quod ænigma est?[*]
[What shall I love if not the enigma?]—Giorgio de Chirico
Clayton Schiff’s paintings seem like representations of dreams. The artist gathers impressions of an unconscious that distorts, displaces, enlarges, and compresses experiences accumulated while awake. His haunting iconography recalls the symbolism of Arnold Böcklin, the alienation and anxiety of Edvard Munch, and Leonora Carrington’s fairylands. Yet Schiff’s fantastical creatures and strange landscapes also have a subtlety and lightness that is playful and even humorous recalling Dr. Seuss.
The exhibition features five paintings, all made in the past year. Crummy City is a street scene with a blue humanoid character carrying two grocery bags, presumably headed home to a nearby tower block. In the foreground are two entangled dog-like creatures, some greenery growing from a crack in the sidewalk, and a plywood fence with peeling, blank posters. In Keeping Up, a tall green figure marches on a path through a sparse forest of baobab trees. Behind each tree, green, tall characters lurk and examine the main figure as if playing hide and seek. Returned is perhaps the most startling painting in the exhibition. A skull is rotting and melting away on moldy grounds into which a plethora of twisting roots penetrate. Two rats inspect the scene, of which one has already made its way into the festering head. Another pathway can be found in Accommodations. Again, a lonely individual walks down an empty road toward what seems like a hybrid dog-cat-human. The creature appears relaxed despite the tunnel carved through its body.
Schiff’s Small World speaks of isolation and disaffection, and champions the irrational and poetic, the enigmatic and arcane. The color palette is muted; soft tones prevail, adding to the work’s otherworldly quality. The paintings often feel empty and sparse, inviting comparisons to Giorgio de Chirico’s dystopian, alienating land- and cityscapes.
Clayton Schiff (b. 1987) lives and works in New York. He received his BFA from Rhode Island School of Design in 2009. His work has been presented widely, including in exhibitions at LOYAL, Stockholm, Sweden; Fisher Parrish, Brooklyn, Safe Gallery, Brooklyn; Nevven Gallery, Gothenburg, Sweden; and Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, New York.
[*]This epigram can be found on the bottom of a self-portrait by de Chirico from 1911. It is itself a quotation from the work of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.