Louis Fratino’s recent exhibition at Thierry Goldberg centered on thirteen expressionistic paintings featuring richly developed oil and crayon surfaces and predominantly male figures. Fratino combines domestic themes of Intimist painters like Pierre Bonnard with the kind of exaggerated figuration found in works by Max Beckmann and Dana Schutz. There is something both familiar and alien about the people he depicts. While they look as though they might be found roaming the streets of Bushwick or Neukölln, their stylized features and strange proportions suggest they are hybrid amalgamations of memory, fantasy, and art history.
With the exception of an untitled male nude measuring more than six feet tall, the canvases on view (all 2016 or 2017) were small- to medium-format. Grapefruit Breakfast is a casual domestic scene in which two young men are seated at a table: one sips from a mug while the other squeezes the last drops of juice from a grapefruit half. Winter Morning features a hirsute young man standing in a bathroom doorway, bathed in incandescent golden light. His body language—left arm folded across torso and head resting in right hand, the stance suggesting both shyness and expectation—and facial features oddly recall those of the reclining female in Matisse’s Blue Nude (1907). Water runs from the sink faucet behind him, and a mirror reveals the reflection of a man standing in a deep blue interior space.
Fratino’s idealizations of male beauty conjure a host of precedents, from art historical works like the ancient Greek kouroi and Thomas Eakins’s Arcadian scenes to contemporary cultural products like the queer zine Butt. References to Greek vase painting appear in some of the works. Self with Pitcher and Candle, in which the artist is shown clutching his knee to his body, a knowing eye fixed on the viewer, features a large, thick-stemmed flower resting in a pitcher painted with a Grecian-style motif of two men kissing. Such objects acquire an allegorical charge in Fratino’s work. Euchre depicts a solitary satyr-like male reclining, his back turned toward the viewer, a few playing cards scattered on the floor beside him, the king of clubs most prominent. The composition Beach at Night is less erotic than the other works on view; it presents a scene of kinship tinged with a mystical undertone. Ten figures, which range in degree of abstraction, convene on a blue, moonlit beach in a kind of ceremonial procession. At the far right a Madonna-like figure holds her pregnant belly.
In addition to the paintings, a selection of six small, lively works on paper was on view. One of them, a crayon-and-pastel drawing titled Couple with Full Moon, shows two men merged into a mass of arms and legs, the scene, with its tumbling rhythm, suggesting a playful round of al fresco grappling. Fratino’s works are animated by a buoyant, youthful energy (he was born in 1994), offering hedonistic celebrations of leisure, sexual coupling, and painterly flourish.