Cody Gunningham has had a show of new paintings up at the Richard Butz Gallery on Main Street in Over the Rhine for the last month. The show continues until October 26. Cody is a recent Art Academy graduate who transitioned from work in illustration to work in painting. Despite his young age, Cody’s work is especially well crafted and presented. Cody was a studio assistant to Jimmy Baker for a summer, and I am sure that the professionalism with which Jimmy presents his own work had an effect.
Cody presents a suite of oil paintings that range in scale from easel size works to large five foot pieces. The paintings showcase a bravura touch and decisiveness that reveals a startling confidence and painterly fluency for such a new artist. Cody has no problems handling a variety of approaches within one work transitioning between smeared, sanded, dabbed and stroked passages. This creates a rich and varied surface. The works depict traditional subject matter: landscape, still life, and interior. The choice to utilize an aggressive and confident use of materials to subvert traditionally pleasing subject matter is a surefire recipe for commercial success as a painter. The risk is that Cody will continue to replicate his “product” for a ready market. What the work lacks is a sense of personal investment. Cody looks too comfortable mimicking Van Gogh and the Romanian contemporary art star Adrian Ghenie.
The influence of the Romanian painter Adrian Ghenie, whose star has reached a lofty height in the last few years, is plain in Cody’s work. When I saw Ghenie’s show at Pace last year in Chelsea, I was struck with the spectacular quality of his paintings. A spectacle is a show meant to grab attention, a performance. In both Cody and Ghenie’s work, this sense of “show” is paramount. Looking at Cody’s work I found myself searching for something to hold onto. The artist has valued painterly effects over substance in the paintings. When I look at a painting like 3 Sunflowers In Chinese Vase, I don’t feel like I am seeing the subject in a new way. Van Gogh’s paintings of sunflowers have stood the test of time because they are painted with a commitment to communicating the depth of the artist’s engagement with the world. In Cody’s paintings I feel the depth of the artist’s engagement with the look of other artists work. The paintings are all bark and no bite. This may sound like a grave indictment, but Cody is a talent to be reckoned with, no question. All serious young artists copy the work of other artists they admire.
In one piece personal commitment prevails. Starry Night In Over The Rhine is a magical and cohesive statement. In this piece the artist feels sincere and specific in his creation. Facility and lack of investment to personal vision can be a deadly combination, but pieces like Starry Night In Over The Rhine provide conclusive evidence that Gunningham’s work has the opportunity to become richer. Go see Cody Gunnigham’s show at Richard Butz Gallery and see the work of a very gifted young artist.