Hoi Polloi, James English Leary’s first exhibition with Nathalie Karg Gallery, presents nine new paintings from the artist’s most recent body of work.
Nine wooden silhouette-shaped panels contain interloping shapes and transversing bodies. In some works, narrative is winnowed to a single gesture: a crosstown foot, an elbow-in-the-orgy, a nose inquiring towards a windowsill pie. In others, colliding forms creep insidiously at the periphery, like dawning realizations or suppressed thoughts, leaving exposed the panel’s veneered wood ground—a wreck-room (or Woodie station-wagon) of the mind. The projection of body parts onto, into and through the profile silhouettes—and the containment of depicted space within actual space—enacts camp-psychological satires of interpretation and self-knowledge.
The exhibition’s title, Hoi Polloi, Greek for “the people” (or in the strictest sense “the many”), likely comes to English scholars through the 5th-century B.C. Funeral Oration of Pericles who invoked it approvingly and in contrast with ‘hoi oligoi’ (“the few”) in praising Athenian democracy. It has since come to possess a decidedly negative connotation and is used to signify the working class, the herd of commoners, the masses, the great unwashed, the plebeians or “plebs”, the ‘canaille’, the proles (as in “the proletariats”), the rabble, the riffraff, the lower order, the mob and the dregs of society.