Admired internationally as a filmmaker, painter, photographer, and musician, Van Sant received his BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence in 1975. Since that time his studio painting practice has moved in and out of the foreground of a multi-disciplinary career, becoming a priority again over recent years. Van Sant’s work in different mediums is united by a single overarching interest in portraying people on the fringes of society. In this exhibition, dreamlike hybridized scenes depict male nudes in shimmering, fractured cityscapes—obscure objects of desire whose presence suggests a mythological dimension hovering within the everyday world.
Many of the paintings on view in the exhibition feature a solitary young man striding past, standing before, or slumping beside a driverless automobile. Roads, buildings, vehicles, and body parts dissolve into one another, yielding a persistent sense of displacement that is heightened by Van Sant’s palette of pale pastels punctuated by deftly placed lines and spots of vivid color. Defined brushstrokes and carefully rendered details give way to veils and washes on linen, resulting in a deceptively gentle mien that seduces and then confounds. The erotic and unsettling effects of these scenes recall the words of Van Sant’s multi-disciplinary predecessor, the filmmaker, painter, poet, novelist, designer, and playwright Jean Cocteau: “I’ve always preferred mythology to history. History is truth that becomes an illusion. Mythology is an illusion that becomes reality.”