Leidy Churchman paintings: Split personalities and a shiver down the spine

Leidy Churchman divides his time between New York and Maine, and the work in his show at Reena Spaulings reflects not only that geographical split but also multiple aesthetic personalities at play.

The installation of 17 paintings reflects the freshness of someone thinking through paint but also a kind of cluttered overthinking. There is charming humility but also the dead weight of pretense. There is reverie, and there is angst.

Large Maine landscapes are beautifully unfussy, affectionate odes. Churchman surrenders to the wonder of a backyard's panoply of greens, a procession of lumpy clouds. He sets these — and most else in the show — against black walls, effectively putting the landscape in quotes, where ultimately, representations always belong. Heavy-handed, maybe, but he has a point.

Leidy Churchman at Reena Spaulings Fine Art
Leidy Churchman's "Morning Warning," 2018. Oil on canvas, 86 by 102.5 inches Michael Underwood / Reena Spaulings Fine Art

Churchman paints with a tender and inquisitive touch. He seems to enjoy rendering the framing window as much as the view through it. Several paintings are split down the middle or outlined, reminding us yet again that what we're seeing is a contrivance. As a formal device, it works, and in some cases, the line bifurcating a scene is the visual equivalent of a shiver down the spine.

In "Double Bubble," the window is almost a mirror, the sketchy figure and stone in each half answering but not quite replicating those in the other half.

Rhyme and wordplay in the titles ("The Oceans Blew as Blue as Your Eyes") are largely benign, toggling between silly joke and suggestive poetry ("For the Flower There Is the Wind"). Churchman's only real clunkers are the riggings suspending one painting beneath a window ledge by a rope, plus a more complicated one involving a chain and anchor. The contraption doesn't matter much as sculpture, and it doesn't help the painting matter more either.

Leidy Churchman at Reena Spaulings Fine Art
Leidy Churchman's "Little Smize Rig," 2018. Oil on canvas, hook, chain, anchor and radar Michael Underwood / Reena Spaulings Fine Art

Throughout this mixed but meaty show, Churchman dips into all sorts of worlds — ikebana, transgender emblems, embroidered coverlet patterns — and flexes all sorts of muscles. It's a worthy exercise for artist and viewer alike.

Reena Spaulings Fine Art, 2228 W. 7th St., 2nd floor (entrance on South Grand View Street), L.A. Through Jan. 12; closed Sundays-Tuesdays. (213) 908-5033,


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