More than ever, we live in two or more worlds at once. We're on the beach but on the cellphone. We're at a show blogging our impressions of the show. It's no longer acceptable to just be here now; we must be here and meta-here. This month at New American Art Union, painter Bailey Winters captures our endless oscillations with incisiveness and style. In Ambush: The Story of the TDA, he mashes up an uncanny photorealistic technique with cartoonishly lowbrow tableaux that jar our perceptions and mirror our fractured attention spans.
In the painting As a Result of His Relationship With the Press..., two figures with finely brushed faces bookend an amateurish depiction of a hairy-chested man/tiger hybrid. In This is the Most Famous and Recognizable Image..., five exquisitely rendered guerrilla operatives brandish assault guns crudely outlined in pink, fuchsia and green. Looking at the paintings from afar, you could swear they incorporate photo collage, but up close, you see that, no, this is old-fashioned oil paint on linen—no tricks, just exquisite facility with the human form. Winters knows better than to use his talent to paint floral still lifes and cheesy female nudes the way baby boomer photorealists do. At 29, he belongs to a post-postmodern generation (he's lead singer of the hilarious post-ironic disco/pop band Strength) and has fun playing it both winky-winky and straight. To frame his narratives he created a back story concerning a shadowy revolutionary group known as TDA, whose members' exploits he details on his website, baileywinters.com. This back story is yawningly tedious, but hey, narrative painters need narratives to drive their work. Henry Darger had his 15,000-page manuscript about children with ambiguous genitalia, and religious painters from Byzantium through the Renaissance recycled Christianity's cornerstone tropes ad infinitum. But make no mistake: Winters' central conceit is not his third-rate story line; it's his audacious formal melange of lowbrow and high concept. While his compositions aren't as imaginatively realized as they could be, his style has legs. With guidance and time, this painter could evolve into something spectacular.
Bailey Winters at New American Art Union, 922 SE Ankeny St., 231-8294. Closes June 27.