11/19/2014 08:50 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Moby Dick Meets Magritte In Sean Landers' Unusual Animal Kingdom

Sean Landers' newest exhibition "North American Mammals" takes flight from the possibilities embedded in the word "coat." Landers plays with the overlap between a "coat of paint" and a "coat of fur," both of which he provides to his army of fantastical beasts. Playing with the potential for slippage between image and word, Landers transforms a turn of phrase into a visual metonymy, showing the sensual power of a literary device.


Moby Dick (Merrilees) 2013

These new coats, as you've probably noticed, are plaid -- a nod to famed surrealist Rene Magritte. The plaid fleece echoes a less popular “vache" phase of Magritte's in 1947 and 1948, a reaction to the negative reception to his work. "He was the world’s leading surrealist, but he had been shunned by Paris and never had a big show there," Landers told The Wall Street Journal. Thus the artist "made paintings that he thought were purposefully bad. But they were really good. They don’t look like normal Magrittes, but in my mind they’re the best paintings he’s ever done."

Landers' paintings depict the animal kingdom somewhat domesticated by the tartan pattern wrapped around them. The boar, walrus, mountain goat and other creatures teeter between elegance and surrealism, their every hair rendered meticulously and realistically despite the unnatural motif cast over them.

The climax of the show is a 28-foot-long painting of a tartan sperm whale -- an homage to Herman Melville's "Moby Dick." The elegant beast glides through murky waters, its flesh wrinkled and bunched with remarkable accuracy. Landers has long been enthralled by the 1851 novel, specifically with Captain Ahab's singular, life-consuming obsession. Landers creates a parallel between Ahab's mission and his own -- an artist attempting to reach true greatness and just maybe get a museum show along the way.

"North American Mammals" runs until December 20, 2014 at Petzel Gallery in New York.

Sean Landers


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