Art

The Artsy Vanguard 2022: Anthony Cudahy

John Belknap
Nov 15, 2022 5:16PM

Anthony Cudahy is that peculiar thing, a serious painter who’s also an unpredictable storyteller. Informed by a revival in New Narrative ideas—disintegration, intentionality, interiority—Cudahy’s images are vaporous vignettes of washed-out figures who have turned away from worldliness.

Some of Cudahy’s work shows the dramas of intimacy, embodiment, and home. A figure carrying a human-sized mirror dyed blood red in Lily and mirror with Apocalypse Tapestry (2022) gives a modest look of disgust at whatever meets her gaze beyond the canvas’s right edge. Other works display the complications of belonging, kinship, and colonialism as well as the afflictions of displacement, as figures move from the indoors to outdoors and back again. His visual storytelling points to all kinds of queer culture keywords. There’s the tenderheartedness of self-care and compassion as well as the tyranny of rehabilitation and reclamation. He limns tough stuff.

Portrait of Anthony Cudahy in his studio, 2021. Photo by Jack Pierson for W Magazine. Courtesy of Hales New York.

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The artist’s paintings are snug in the company of his contemporaries Salman Toor, Janiva Ellis, Genieve Figgis, and Cy Gavin. Each one dreams up half-present figures—apparitions, really—floating about on the brink of troubled times. Cudahy is a reliable narrator of the era. He portrays Americans as wads of smoke and gas, grappling with losing object permanence of the world.

Of his recent journey into therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder, he shares: “Actually a lot of what I feel like my work has been about over the years, fear and precariousness—we’ve been doing exposure therapy to stop avoiding the discomfort caused by uncertainty.”

Anthony Cudahy, installation view of “a pearl caught between my teeth” at GRIMM, 2022. Photo by LNDW Studio. Courtesy of the artist and GRIMM.

Cudahy has a keen, if somewhat aching, sentimentality for what an American painting can and cannot address. Human frailty, restlessness, and environmental interfusion reign. As for any zeitgeist-specific imagery, “I really can’t think of any pop culture references that are in my current work,” he said. “Even getting the iPhone in a few paintings was a big deal for me. As some of the paintings get more and more specific and descriptive of place; it’s not something I want to avoid. I guess the emotional tenor of the work and the shorthand I’ve developed over the years isn’t very pop.”

It’s telling that the artist grew up in hurricane-heavy Fort Myers, Florida. If the threat of destruction blowing through your neighborhood looms from time to time, what else are you to do but turn away from the worldliness of material things? His paintings make a better door than a window, a welcome metaphor for letting things come and go as they please.

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Aptly, Cudahy is an archivist of photographs, poems, and other particles of the past. All appear throughout his work. There’s references to the deadly 1977 bathhouse fire in Manhattan; lyrics to the Kate Bush song “A Coral Room”; Helen Frankenthaler’s symbolic 1957 painting Jacob’s Ladder; gay Tumblr (RIP); Pompeii wall art; iconography lifted from Bruegel and Bosch; and the rest of the so-called Queer Archive. His most recent show, “a pearl caught between my teeth,” mounted at GRIMM in Amsterdam, quotes a line from a Paul Legault poem called “Flowers, Duh.” The poem seems to ask what it would mean if culture was really nature all along.

The artist eventually fled the Florida wetlands for New York City. There, he graduated with a BFA from Pratt Institute in 2011 and an MFA from Hunter College in 2020. Cudahy’s first solo show, “Heaven Inside,” was held at Uprise Art Outpost in Chelsea in 2014. In the years prior, he had shared similar work of washed-out figures: upstate city-dwellers; his husband; dogs, snakes, and insects. They appear with beady eyes, smudged noses, clubbed feet, and discolored skin. Sunburns cover the bodies of bearded boys in backyard gardens. Rashes glow on the skin of bent-over women at work. Their skin’s surface swims and swerves; it expands with pigment as it fills its epidermal container. Some wear clothes and others barely.

Anthony Cudahy, installation view of “Coral Room” at Hales Gallery, 2021. Photo by JSP Art Photography. Courtesy of the artist and Hales Gallery, London and New York.

“I often try to have more oddball moments with clothing, for a lack of a better term,” Cudahy said. “Socks still on or like a shirt on with nothing else—because those kinds of moments feel more casual [and] real to me.”

These figures have been shown in group shows at venues such as Deli Gallery and Perrotin in New York, Kapp Kapp and Vox Populi in Philadelphia, and across Europe in Paris, Amsterdam, and Athens. His solo shows have also included “Coral Room” at Hales Gallery, which showed erect figures on balconies, beaches, and in bedrooms, as well as presentations at 1969 Gallery in New York and Semiose Galerie in Paris.

Like most apparitions, though, Cudahy’s figures seem to appear as quickly as they fade away. They emit a force of intimacy which strikes one as particularly painful, acting out atomized scenes inspired from Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979) or Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (2009), two of Cudahy’s favorite flicks.

Anthony Cudahy, Hidden Place (violets), 2022. Photo by JSP Art Photography. Courtesy of the artist and Hales Gallery, London and New York.

Both films tell parables about “punishment…for transgressing unknowable rules and borders,” Cudahy explained. In Stalker, a doomful territory called The Zone holds a hidden room that grants anyone whatever earthly desire they select. The Zone, with its room, “relates to the hyperobject of the climate crisis and other ‘invisible,’ unknowable forces,” he said. The films share something embedded in Cudahy’s work: We may lose touch with the world but we can never really let it go; destiny is dissociation.

Other painted scenes read as if they’re sketches from a Joy Williams novel, stylistically minimal with unnerving eco-content, as evinced in Lattice (two apart) (2022). The painting details two figures’ heads sliced off at the bottom of the frame. The silent heads peer out, on opposite sides of the canvas, against a maroon and bruise-purple latticed wall. Atop the wall sit green stone fruits attached to leafy branches (Yellow plums? Greengage cultivars?). One fruit has been cut open and they balance close to the wall’s edge. What could be the fruit’s incoming fall is forgotten; neither man gives the wounded fruit much attention. Where there’s gravity, though, there’s grace: a stranger to pick up the fruit after its fall.


The Artsy Vanguard 2022

The Artsy Vanguard is our annual feature recognizing the most promising artists working today. The fifth edition of The Artsy Vanguard features 19 rising talents from across the globe who are poised to become the next great leaders of contemporary art. Explore more of The Artsy Vanguard 2022 and collect works by the artists.

John Belknap

Header: Anthony Cudahy, from left to right: “Candle arrangement,” 2021; “Ian asleep (Seneca watching),” 2022; and “Reader,” 2022. Photos by JSP Art Photography. Courtesy of the artist and Hales Gallery, London and New York.

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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019