Jack Barrett is pleased to present Soft Words Make It Easier to Bear, Timothy Lai’s first solo exhibition in New York. The Providence-based artist’s twelve oil on canvas paintings traverse memory, imagination and history, all of which are intertwined in his figures’ elusive gestures in malleable landscapes. Varying in scale yet coherent in style, the works carry autobiographical traits unburdened by factual or figurative codes of storytelling in painting. The brushstrokes convey bodies, objects, and places with a fluid circularity that renders a bent limb, a draped cloth, or winding horizon with akin ease.
Lai builds his mysterious compositions with references to personal stories; however, experience serves as a portal for ample narrative potentials, made further possible by his dense color spectrum. From a neon-bright yellow to a velvety blue, Lai’s hues connect the dots between the figures’ fleeting acts. The artist considers the paintings’ two protagonists as avatars of himself and his lover. Born in Malaysia to a Chinese father and a Mexican-American mother, Lai navigates his brown body alongside his white partner in scenarios of lingering ennui, contemplation, and redemption.
In On the Cusp of a Decision, the male figure looks through a hand-held mirror, while she hovers above his shoulder and supports him from behind. They eschew their white linen-covered bed to recline over the floor. The horizontal mirror yields a liquid impression of the female subject who assumes the roles of a comrade and reflection. The duo’s interdependence echoes in the show’s titular painting. Here, the man rests on his knees while urinating into a growing puddle in which lies a fish. The excrement’s beaming yellow shade reflects onto the woman’s legs and genital as she puts a kiss onto her partner. The intimacy in a moment of relief and release is evident in the act of relinquishing, both bodily and emotional.
An in-between state of places and emotions determines Lai’s visual language. From his move to the American west at age seventeen to a transition from faith to questioning, personal dilemmas and revelations occupy the canvases. The honesty in the artist’s construction of his journey allows the viewer into his very particular universe where reality is evanescent and reverie, prevalent.
—Osman Can Yerebakan
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