Devendra Banhart’s strange and wonderful exhibition of recent paintings and drawings at Nicodim Gallery in downtown Los Angeles is a rogue’s gallery of surrealist avatars, a pageant of intimately scaled works awash in playful, mischievous mystery.
“Nothing is more gall-bitter than suffering, nothing more honey-sweet than having suffered.” — Meister Eckhart
Devendra Banhart’s barbarous, nonlinear nomenclature is savage in its nonaggression, and completely at peace with its perverse audacity. The recursive abstracted forms within his canvases are a non-hierarchical alphabet of allegories for the diminishment and destruction of ego. Each mouth, prick, eye, and ass breaks apart and reconstructs itself until they become a collective commune of equally all-important, yet weightless pieces of the tantric universe. They are a cycle of mala beads through the fingers of time.
The Grief I Have Caused You, Banhart’s first solo exhibition in Los Angeles, is a survey of recent paintings and drawings mostly completed during a year when the Grand Pendulum neglected to swing back to “having suffered.” Though they were sowed in a moment of near-universal hurt, each composition manifests an equal, harmonic measure of joy: grotesque figurations of comedy and tragedy embrace and approach fellatio in “Nyima & Dawa,” 2021; a fat-bottomed, high-heeled hiker rejoices at a finally flat stretch of terrain while a behemoth of a feline looms menacingly overhead in “Twilight Hiker,” 2021; “Offering,” 2021, is a total deconstruction of the elements represented within the first two, a Buddhist garden partially digested by the biome of infinity. (Banhart’s flora includes the cubist and surrealist tendencies of Paul Klee, the expressionistic poetry of Helen Frankenthaler, and the violent gestures of Ethel Schwabacher, to name a few.)
If time is a circular property, then the human condition is a perennial state of suffering and having suffered, often and increasingly all at once. The Grief I Have Caused You is the artist’s rumination on the uniquely personal, yet absolute universality of this push-and-pull. His grief is your grief, but so is his ecstasy.
Devendra Banhart (b. 1980, Houston, Texas) lives and works in Los Angeles. An internationally renowned musician considered a pioneer of the “freak folk” and “New Weird America” movements, Banhart has toured, performed, and collaborated with Vashti Bunyan, Yoko Ono, Os Mutantes, Swans, ANOHNI, Caetano Veloso, and Beck, amongst many others. His musical work has always existed symbiotically alongside his pursuits in the other fine arts. In addition to painting and drawing most of his own album covers (the album artwork for his 2010 album What Will We Be was nominated for a Grammy), he has contributed to Doug Aitken’s multimedia Station to Station project. He has performed at MoMA (New York), MoCA (Los Angeles), The Hammer Museum (Los Angeles), LACMA (Los Angeles), and The Broad Museum (Los Angeles). Exhibitions include Voglio proprio vedere, Mazzoli, Modena, Italy (2017); Sphinx Interiors & Other Works, Mazzoli, Modena, Italy (2014, solo); Abstract Rhythms: Paul Klee and Devendra Banhart, SFMoMA, San Francisco (2007–2008); Music is a Better Noise, MoMA PS1, Queens, New York (2007); and Devendra Banhart, Mazzoli, Modena, Italy (2006, solo). His monograph of drawings and paintings I Left My Noodle on Ramen Street (2015, Prestel) features essays by Jeffrey Deitch and Beck. The Grief I Have Caused You is Banhart’s first solo exhibition with Nicodim, and his first in Los Angeles.
The exhibition is on view at the gallery and online - click here to view a presentation of individual artworks.