In a prosaic and wistful pendulum of romance, familial affection and friendship, Ian Micheal’s new collection of works invite us to consider quiet intimacies that saturate everyday life by suspending banal moments. Ian Micheal’s “Stills” at Mariane Ibrahim whispers the affections betwixt people and myriad other instances, things, textures and minutia encountered in daily life. In this, Micheal uses paint, textile collage and linguistic ambiguity (through the use of playful, however unclear, narrative within his titles) to slow the viewer down. The spaces, sounds and experiences often passed over in the haste and expediency that urban life requires are permitted to be seen and admired. These figures feel like family members and strangers—both firm and languid—his figures (and identities) are intimately recognizable and somehow completely unknowable.
As aptly described in the exhibition statement, “by capturing fleeting gestures that often fail to register, Micheal’s practice asks what it means to inhabit these affinities in a minor key.” “There were two in the bed” (2022) is a diptych displaying two masculine-presenting figures under covers; relaxed and affectionate, they rest in an embrace. Applications of cloth and thin washes of burnt umber represent the figures. This lush brown has an even distribution of pigment that gestures toward the expert application of the medium. At times, Micheal’s brush stroke appears as one contour line uniting the body’s shape. The uniformity of pigment reveals an ambiguous narrative: there isn’t a light source, for example, but it also provides a unique type of anonymity. Wrapped over these bodies is an appliqué of floral fabric reminiscent of textiles popular in the early 1980s in the Midwest. Its ochre background and bright fuchsia blooms are a warm foreground for the equivocal scene before us. The pose and anonymity of the figures teeter between eroticism and platonic affection. Not being granted enough information to conceptualize a narrative or sense of understanding fully, the viewer is delegated to working with nuance.
“Everything but the kitchen sink” (2022) is a traditional still life: a refrigerator with a random arrangement of magnets, a stove with pots resting neatly upon the burners. In the foreground is a tabletop with a bowl of fruit and some cups. The window has bars installed on the exterior, and the ochre paint job and dim grey lighting maintain a specific ethos: tainted by the color of the smell of stale cigarette smoke. “Everything” is a portrait of an apartment, clean and loved, whilst smelling like the lives of all of its other tenants. Without illustrating many specificities, Micheal can stimulate nostalgia for living spaces I’ve inhabited, left, returned to and loved despite their flaws or terrible landlords.
Last is the gentle application of tender twists of baby-blue tissue in “It might as well be summer” (2022) that make up the breezy depths of poolside luxury. Amid late summer heat, Ian Micheal’s works are a welcome respite from busy days and the bustle of passing by. (Megan Bickel)
“Ian Micheal: Stills” is on view at Mariane Ibrahim, 437 North Paulina, through August 13.