The Minutiae of Humanity Shall Overcome the Beast, at Gallery +
Scott Kraynak’s exhibit at Gallery +, The Minutiae of Humanity Shall Overcome the Beast, presents two collections of portraits, and their subjects could not be more disparate. On the one hand, the artist has painted people of Ecuador—farmers, laborers, a soccer player, a man preparing street food—whom Kraynak met on a trip to the South American nation in Winter, 2019. And on the other, there’s a series of portraits of the 45th president of the United States.
The two groupings of portraits differ wildly in their tone and content, and clearly the nature of the relationship between artist and subject. And they are presented almost as two separate shows: the Ecuadorans are hung on the gallery’s white walls, while the portraits of the president are hung inside a chicken wire cage in the center of the room, partially covered and decorated with newspaper clippings of significant, often horrific events that have taken place under his watch. Kraynak says the cage “censors” the Trumpian portraits, that its walls represent oppression, and also that it separates the evil from the humanity.
The presidential portraits are not presidential in any sense, any more than is the person they represent. They certainly made a timely hook for the whole exhibit, which opened in the heat of the campaign season, just a little more than two weeks before the election. Overall they are garish in color. They visually riff on aspects of his physical character, as well as his demeanor: The smug look of satisfaction, the angry sneer, the leering eyes. They make allusions to preceding historic figures known for tyrannical, racist behavior, such as Adolf Hitler. All exaggerate the fiery orange of his skin, blending vivid shades, in coarse streaks of magic marker. They tag the president with allegations against him: Rapist; Human Virus. There’s no question the artist’s perspective on this person: he is completely disgusted by him.
The paintings of the Ecuadoran people, by contrast, exude Kraynak’s respect for the subjects. They use muted, more natural tones, more realistic coloring, and smaller, more refined brush strokes. While the president in his portraits seems to be mugging for a camera, the Ecuadorans are in the context of their surroundings—in the city, on the farm. And they are working: carrying tools from raking and trimming someone’s garden; cooking food on a charcoal grill, managing a soccer match. The artist clearly likes these people. In a statement he describes them as “kind, hard-working, beautiful, and genuine.” That appreciation is visible in the way they are painted.
The disparate collections come together in Kraynak’s awareness that the US exists in the context of the world. “It disturbs me greatly,” he writes in a statement, “that the rest of the world possibly thinks that all Americans support and agree with our current ‘dictator.’” Of course the world knows that the US votes on its leadership, and that whoever the leader is does not always have the support of all the voters. Anyone who has made friends overseas is likely aware that while US citizens often have no clue about even who leads other nations, people in other countries often have this nuanced understanding of our politics, even to the point of knowing about the electoral colleage, and that in this country it is possible for a person to lose the popular vote and still become president. But knowing that doesn’t make an embarrassing leader go away.
Kraynak works as a park ranger and clearly believes in the work. That’s expressed in another aspect of the show: he’s giving all profit to an effort to purchase land that will be added to the Maquipucuna Reserve—a cloud forest nature preserve near the capital, Quito, which is high in the Andes. The show is on view at Gallery + in 78th Street Studios October 16 through December 18. Kraynak hopes that in a post-COVID world the exhibit can eventually travel to a gallery in Quito, the Ecuadoran capital.