Rodney Graham stages elaborate investigations into the history of art and culture through photography, film, music, performance, and painting. Artist in Artists' Bar belongs to a recent series of works in which Graham has imagined himself in the guise of fictional bohemian artists. Here, he meticulously made and staged every element in the composition, personally posing as the downtrodden 1950s artist at its center.
Graham has explained that this work “represents an abstract painter’s hangout, a hypothetical one in the 1950s with art by its denizens on the wall, works presumably traded for food and drink. It took me a while to do the paintings. I wanted to do them myself. I like to experiment with modernist tropes in my own painting, a sideline. My painting is perhaps not good enough for museums but it is good enough for a restaurant.”
In this work, Graham presents a powerful form of time travel: one artist attiring himself in the tropes of another generation and weighing whether they still have relevance after so many retellings. The artist’s channeling of the past is presented as a pastiche, but nonetheless one that tell us something about the nature of influence in a moment when all historical styles are readily available to the contemporary artist willing to shuffle through them.