Chuck Connelly: My America is the first solo museum exhibition of veteran painter Chuck Connelly. Born in Pittsburgh in 1955 and trained at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, Connelly relocated to New York City in the early 1980s, where he gained recognition and success as part of an emerging group of Neo-Expressionist painters. This group of contemporary artists included Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Julian Schnabel. As his career devel- oped, the market and politics of art shifted away from painting. Yet Connelly remained loyal to the tradition of oil painting by exploring grand, art-historical themes with his own personal, expressive tragicomic style.
My America is a mixture of memoir and social history told through Connelly’s uniquely fantastical style. Working from his home in Philadelphia, Connelly paints from newspaper images, magazines, and television to reveal the half- truths and slanted visions that surround us every day. His lush, heavily layered canvases reveal a darker side of humanity. From the shell-shocked eyes of a veteran in Soldier and Girl (2009) to the depictions of the bestial nature of urban society in Animals in the Streets (1994), the works explore ominous and haunting themes. Similarly, in Bran Flakes (2009) a hammer takes the place of a spoon; in Pizza (2008) the toppings ooze from the canvas; and in Homo (1978) Santa Claus has a sardonic grin. All present the artist’s twisted imagina- tion, rife with cynicism. Each image is universal yet feels rooted in the particular consumerist, American psyche.
This exhibition offers a glimpse into Connelly’s personal journey, one that verges on the Odyssean, filled with romantic seduction, quarrels with threat- ening dragons, and celestial visions at the edge of heaven. In Connelly’s saga, he returns to the safe comfort of the canvas where he finds solace day in and day out. Connelly’s vision of the world is borne of his personal story, but speaks to us all with lessons from the brink, asking each of us to look inward and question our own quotidian existence.
Jessica Beck joined the Andy Warhol Museum as the Assistant Curator of Art this past March and has settled into her role as the co-curator of Chuck Connelly: My America, the Warhol’s submission to the 2014 Pittsburgh Biennial. Prior to moving to Pittsburgh, Jessica worked at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC as a Programs Associate for the Director’s Office. There she organized the lecture series “Talking About Andy,” which coincided with the Warhol Shadows exhibition and included special guests Hal Foster and Kara Walker. She also invited Douglas Crimp to debut his 2012 publication Our Kind of Movie: The Films of Andy Warhol. Jessica has written for The Burlington Magazine and the Curator’s Office and focused both her undergraduate and graduate research on Warhol. She received her BA from the University of Chicago and completed an MA in Art History from the Courtauld Institute of Art.