These Melancholy Paintings Capture the Weariness of a Modern Generation

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Tony Toscani, Before Sleep, 2018, Oil on Linen, 32
Before Sleep, 2018© Tony Toscani, courtesy of Massey Klein

Tony Toscani’s strange and beautiful work is on display in New York now

Brooklyn-based artist Tony Toscani makes paintings for everybody who has ever spent a Friday evening getting ready to go out, sat down on their sofa to scroll for a minute through Instagram, and looked up again three hours later to find that the sun has gone down and the party’s almost over – before giving up on the idea altogether in favour of just going to bed instead. His vivid figurative paintings – which depict young, beautiful people sunk in a soporific stupor, seemingly induced by the sheer much-ness of contemporary life – are as recognisable as they are jarring. They are of us, we viewers quickly realise, and our friends and peers; we are the subject of this aesthetic study, and we didn’t even know we were participating in it.

It’s a subject that seems to capture a universal contemporary condition. “I remember in college while I was painting all through the night,” the artist tells AnOther. “I was listening to Venus In Furs by the Velvet Underground on my radio when I heard the line, ‘I am tired, I am weary, I could sleep for a thousand years...’ I felt as though that line summed up what it was like to feel all the weight of the world’s weariness on one’s shoulders. We work more hours, we rely more on technology and we tend to play less.”

Toscani has always been fascinated by our weariness, he continues. “No matter how hard we try it will always get the better of us in the end. We try to ignore it with apps and social media but those distractions always end up mocking us, making us feeling more disconnected. In the end, I truly believe there is a beauty to our languor. It is an emotion that makes us uniquely human.”

Abstract though his subjects are in their appearance – their eyes gaze blankly into the distance; their smooth fleshly limbs carefully arranged around them – they are recognisably ‘us’ in their actions. One woman, her long dark hair falling around her shoulders, distorts her body into an angular position for the sake of her phone camera, like a slave to her screen. The painting is called Selfie Pose. In another, a man in a slouchy grey sweatshirt clutches a mug of coffee at his kitchen table, his chin thrust into the palm of his hand as he stars absentmindedly out of frame; a modern portrait of melancholia.

These works and several others are currently on display alongside the paintings of Rosalind Breen, as part of an exhibition named Summertime Sadness at Massey Klein gallery in New York. What does he hope visitors will take away from it? “Ultimately, this show is a great duality between an abstract and a figurative painter. But there is more to it than that,” he says. “The viewer is entering a world of daydreams. Voyeuristically confronting lonely behemoths lost in reverie. One cannot help but consider it an act of glimpsing into one’s own melancholy. To quote Sylvia Plath from her novel The Bell Jar, ‘I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead; I lift my eyes and all is born again’.”

Summertime Sadness by Tony Toscani and Rosalind Breen is on display at Massey Klein gallery, New York, until August 26, 2018.