CULTURE & ARTS

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.

whale
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.

  • Performance Becomes Reality (Pony)
2014
Oil on linen
55 x 72 inches 139.7 x 182.9 cm LS 14/005
    Performance Becomes Reality (Pony) 2014 Oil on linen 55 x 72 inches 139.7 x 182.9 cm LS 14/005
  • Blue Buck
2014
Oil on linen
52 x 44 inches 132.1 x 111.8 cm LS 14/025
    Blue Buck 2014 Oil on linen 52 x 44 inches 132.1 x 111.8 cm LS 14/025
  • Proximate Strangers (Coyote and Crow)
2014
Oil on linen
44 x 52 inches 111.8 x 132.1 cm LS 14/010
    Proximate Strangers (Coyote and Crow) 2014 Oil on linen 44 x 52 inches 111.8 x 132.1 cm LS 14/010
  • Casting It Back Out to Sea (Howler Monkey)
2014
Oil on linen 38 x 50 inches 96.5 x 127 cm LS 14/008

    Casting It Back Out to Sea (Howler Monkey) 2014 Oil on linen 38 x 50 inches 96.5 x 127 cm LS 14/008 
  • Sincerity and Empathy (Black Bear and Cardinal)
2014
Oil on linen
55 x 72 inches 139.7 x 182.9 cm LS 14/006
    Sincerity and Empathy (Black Bear and Cardinal) 2014 Oil on linen 55 x 72 inches 139.7 x 182.9 cm LS 14/006
  • The Urgent Necessity of Narcissism for the Artistic Mind (Jaguar)
2014
Oil on linen 50 x 65 inches 127 x 165.1 cm LS 14/002
    The Urgent Necessity of Narcissism for the Artistic Mind (Jaguar) 2014 Oil on linen 50 x 65 inches 127 x 165.1 cm LS 14/002
  • Coyote and Crow (Proximate Strangers)
2014
Oil on linen
72 x 55 inches 182.9 x 139.7 cm LS 14/011
    Coyote and Crow (Proximate Strangers) 2014 Oil on linen 72 x 55 inches 182.9 x 139.7 cm LS 14/011
  • Aspen Trees (You're Lost)
2014
Oil on linen 50 x 65 inches 127 x 165.1 cm LS 14/003
    Aspen Trees (You're Lost) 2014 Oil on linen 50 x 65 inches 127 x 165.1 cm LS 14/003
  • Howler Monkey (Casting It Back Out to Sea)
2014
Oil on linen
72 x 55 inches 182.9 x 139.7 cm LS 14/018
    Howler Monkey (Casting It Back Out to Sea) 2014 Oil on linen 72 x 55 inches 182.9 x 139.7 cm LS 14/018
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