At Owen James Gallery, Dex Fernandez Expands Portraiture’s Borders

Installation view of Dex Fernandez “310E44R822” at Owen James Gallery, New York. Courtesy of Owen James Gallery. 

Installation view of Dex Fernandez “310E44R822” at Owen James Gallery, New York. Courtesy of Owen James Gallery. 

is an illustrative maximalist. Using acrylic and thread, he alters digital photographs with a hyperactive mix of comic book-like shapes, patterns, lines, and characters. In his current show show, “310E44R822,” at Owen James Gallery in Greenpoint, Fernandez, who lives and works in the Philippines, presents a new body of psychedelic abstractions in a candy-colored palette reflective of his street-art roots. However, rather than spreading his motifs across walls alone, he has taken to faces, transforming anonymous portraits with fantastical designs.
Leaving no surface uncovered, Fernandez hangs his multimedia works over paintings that he’s applied directly to the wall. The individual images flow together—connected by a cast of lines and shapes that repeat across the series—yet each painting sports its own universe of imaginary flora and fauna. In Plankton (2015), a portrait of a long-haired woman, the artist uses mylar, embroidery, and paint to create an underwater, sea-like environment for his subject. The sitter in 310E44R822 (2015) is almost entirely covered in floating amoebic creatures and spiraling discs. Close examination reveals the sitter’s eyes and teeth peeking through the jumble of forms, at once playfully and piercingly. 
Don’t Be a Stranger (2015), on the other hand, limits the painted palette to grayscale. Here, Fernandez has threaded disks and beads on long strings that seem to magnetically radiate out from the woman’s nostrils. Her eyes have been widened into cartoonish bubbles. This is one of the few works with perspective depth, and it creates an almost yogic flow. And in Death in the Boiler Room (2015), black and white ink drawings cover a man in a white shirt. Fernandez’s vine-like drawings crawl over him, except where rainbow rays explode from a circular transparency sewn over his face. The color charges outward, reaching for viewers with excited tentacles and drawing them in to look closer.
What makes these images particularly compelling is the fact that each seems to have its own personality, as though reflective of the sitter’s internal world. Yet, as the works spread across the gallery, connected by twisting patterns and geometric symbols, Fernandez also emphasizes their interconnectivity. These are individuals allied by an overarching energy, embodied in the artist’s exuberant visual vocabulary.

—Ari Spool

310E44R822” is on view at Owen James Gallery, Brooklyn, Oct. 30th–Nov. 30th, 2015.