Dan Schein’s Mountain Men Mock the Macho

by Til Will

It’s the end of an aimless art hunt in Chelsea that I really didn’t intend to have. I kept hoping I’d find something meaningful on 24th st. There had to be something new.

After exhausting the block I had come to my last stop: Mike Weiss Gallery. There beamed the densest painting of the day; it was literally screaming.

img_8861

Dan Schein, Seer of Things, oil on canvas, 66 x 92 in.

Deep umbers and heavy greens were climbing off of the canvas. A face built of salmon colored smudges and flailing brown smears glared with a big ol’ eye. The mouth trembled as if to be in two places at once. I picture the dreadful author of this evil mark-making as a pure madman, emptying entire tubes of paint and slopping them around like playing with food.

It was like de Kooning had gone all mountain-man-folk-adventure-comic.

I imagine myself existing in this sludgy dimension. It’s so humid. When I blink my eyes, they go, “glop, glop.” Every now and again when I take a step, a gelatinous bit of me just falls off and plops in the sludge.

It’s bog land as far as my goopy eye can see. I hear something belch up from below, then a squawk from some wretched bird. It’s a baby vulture in some buttery tree. Momma bird stares me down with infinite gloom. But she don’t pay me much mind. She’s got young to feed and she’s too busy trying not to melt.

img_8852Dan Schein, Mother and Child, 2016, oil on canvas, 66 x 92 in.

I round the corner to find a grimy lad yanking on his stick-built fishing rod–he’s hooked some beast that’s too big for the pond. It’s a momentous event that could only exist in myth, at the bottom of a bottle in an Everglades pub. That’s no fish; it’s a snarlin’ leviathan.

img_8854Dan Schein, A Typical Evening with Sheps, 2016, oil on canvas, 72 x 96 in.

Back from its 1960’s origins with the Hairy Who and Guston, alt-comic imagery has had a recent resurgence through young male painters. Among them is Dan Schein, who seems to be painting about the contemporary phenomenon of the faux mountain man. These paintings depict macho narratives conjured up in the bro-est sense. Every piece tries to one-up the last, like tall tales told ’round a campfire. His violent mark-making is taken directly from boys-club Abstract Expressionism. I see his work having a dialogue with chic clothing companies that sell the idea of ‘rugged.’ It takes a look at the bearded guy and his lumber-clad coffee shop and says: you want epic? you got it.

Masculine narratives can’t be employed at this level without political implications. These paintings, whether they mean to or not, seem to use machismo to attack machismo. It reads as a perfectly concocted assassination of the male power complex. It get’s real friendly by gliding in on it’s badass-ness as a rugged adventure comic, and then it strikes with crippling irony when the moment is right–because it’s too freaky to be a real crowd pleaser.

img_8850Dan Schein, The Skepticism of an Angry Man Left Him in a Mire of Doom and Gloom , 2016, oil on canvas, 66 x 92 in.

I mean these paintings are stressed out. They seem to be yelling, ‘YA LIKE THAT? IS THIS ENOUGH PAINT FOR YA, HOW ‘BOUT MORE? YOU WANT DEMENTED? GOT THAT! FIGURES LOOK FUCKY ENOUGH FOR YA? GOOD.’  To me It’s like Chris Farley’s whacked-out sales pitch in Tommy Boy that becomes an animated desk top demonstration of a car crash caused by faulty brake pads. My guess is that Dan Schein has had enough of store-bought manliness.  

Dan Schein’s Mountain Men Mock the Macho

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