Something feels out-of-place in drafting a formal press release for Nicasio Fernandez's forthcoming exhibition at Harper’s Apartment, Working Through It. Not least because Harper himself has continually expressed an allergy to the canned and lifeless prose of such statements. It's really the innate nature of Nicasio's studio practice that wards off the gallery system's formulaic proceduralism. The level of comic absurdity in his subject matter demands something other than that, like how a joke requires a riveting lead-up rather than a dry explanation. What I'd like to offer instead are my personal impressions that have developed over the last few months while closely collaborating with Nicasio. Perhaps I can tell the story and leave it to his paintings to "handle the work."
When we were planning this show, Nicasio told me he wanted to address the theme of laboring away, to depict situations of people's ritualized existence on the clock. The end result, however, amounts to more than simply recording the worker's daily grind. He collides the world of surrealist fantasy and banal circumstance to add color to what is typically a grey experience. Anthropomorphic figures are performing their duties in psychedelic landscapes and brightly hued backgrounds. A house painter cum artist prepares his tiny brush for a large task at hand, an angry figure squeezes fresh watermelon juice from its mouth, a tense lobby chair has its very last cigarette break, and a landscaper happily trims—or castrates—a manicured bush, are a few examples. Overall, there are mixed emotions on display: some of the laborers appear content in their activities while others can't hold back emotive signs of frustration. I imagine that this ambivalence speaks to the process Nicasio goes through himself as a painter. On the one hand, he enjoys making these wonky paintings, while on the other, it's nothing short of a full-time job to achieve the standards he wishes to meet, which isn't always a pleasurable endeavor. Dedication takes stamina and tolerance for completing strenuous steps. He is literally working through it by presenting the checkered emotions that go into the painterly process.
Clearly, Nicasio is technically skilled at what he does — something he has earned from all the time he's devoted to the practice. The subtle detail of his backgrounds, the playful use of color patterns and textures, and the sculptural elements built upon the surface of the canvas show a level of commitment beyond the Sunday painter. That said, his work does not read as simply inheriting learned conventions from the "Old Masters" like the path of an apprentice, even though they are painted with consideration. Instead, he takes his inspiration from a variety of sources beyond the confines of high art. Influences from street fashion, skateboarding culture, comic book aesthetics, and slapstick comedy intermingle with references to styles advanced by Otto Dix, Peter Saul, Judith Linhares, and the Chicago Imagists. His paintings oddly channel entertaining humor much like pop culture while simultaneously portraying the complicated relationship we have with the activity of work in our modern world.
I am currently writing these statements on a fourteen-hour plane ride from New York to Japan. It's ironic that I am contemplating all the tedious and frustrating scenarios about work en route to my (well-needed) vacation. But looking at images of Nicasio's paintings over the last few hours has provided endless delight in an almost cathartic way. Sometimes properly processing the drudgery of working life can only be done through the mechanism of humor. It's an awkward pairing but something Nicasio revels in, welcoming his audience to do the same. I look forward to seeing Harper and Nicasio when I punch in again next week and hope you all can join us for the opening reception after you punch out yourselves.
—Chris Mansour, somewhere 36,000 feet over Russia
Nicasio Fernandez (b. 1993, Yonkers, NY) received a BFA from the School of Visual Arts in 2015. Recent solo exhibitions include: Lose Some, Win None, Galerie Sebastien Adrien, Paris (2018); Poor-Traits, Maid’s Room, San Juan (2018); and Off to a Rocky Start, Kustera Projects, Brooklyn (2017). Fernandez’s work has been featured in group shows at Upstairs Art Fair, Amagansett (2018); Galerie Sebastien Adrien, Paris (2017); Allouche Gallery, New York (2017); 0-0 LA, Los Angeles (2017); SPRING/BREAK Art Show, New York (2017); Field Projects, New York (2016); and Lesley Heller Workspace, New York (2016). Fernandez currently lives and works in Mahopac, NY.