Chris Cosnowski

Might and Main
August 30 — September 29, 2018

Dolby Chadwick Gallery is delighted to present Chris Cosnowski’s Might and Main

Cosnowski continues his exploration of the conflicted soul of our pop culture. His toys, trophies, models and other Americana transport us into a world that’s both playful and haunting, sacred and silly, minimal and complex. In Might and Main, a phrase from the 12th century meaning with as much effort or strength as one can muster, many of Cosnowski’s figures are raising their fists in a gesture that speaks equally of assertion and desperation. A gesture that perfectly encapsulates our current situation. All of these figures seem to have jumped right out of a nostalgic childhood dream. Plastic toys depict characters from classical Greek mythology and trophies remind us of past glory and success. But there is no real strength depicted in these figures. Despite their gloriously shiny surfaces, experience tells us that the trophies are hollow, cheap spray-plated plastic. The figures are placed dead center in the middle of the painting, making them appear isolated and lonely. Each is painted with a heartrendingly loving hyper-realism, yet set against an empty, monochromatic background which turns them into objects of an abstract world. 

Cosnowski doesn’t add any commentary, he doesn’t need to. His toys and trophies perfectly capture the harrowing soul of American culture and all it represents. Our nostalgic longing for simplicity, the inherent hollowness and betrayal, and its inescapable charms … and just like Cosnowski’s face peers back at the viewer in the reflection in his trophies, we see our own longing looking at us through the eyes of his plastic toys. 

Cosnowski’s paintings are derived from classical still lifes in the tradition of the Dutch breakfast painters and JBS Chardin. Rather than depicting fruits or dead flowers, however, his subjects revel in references to the world of pop-art and pop culture. His photo-realistic style is sublimated by the minute, even obsessive attention to detail and geometric perfection that render Cosnowski’s still lifes into works of idealized art. “Ultimately,” Cosnowski says, “I’m a closet minimalist who creates Neo-Classicist Pop-Art.”

There is also a spiritual dimension to Cosnowski’s art. Seemingly, his paintings are ironic commentaries on the golden calves we worship in our secular age—cheap trophies and mass-produced toys. And yet, they are painted without judgment, with no detail left out and a humility that borders on devotion. The monochromatic abstract backgrounds are reminiscent of medieval icons, but instead of the traditional saints there are idealized toys and trophies looking at us with their empty, lifeless eyes. We feel that in spite of their silliness his figures have a simplicity and presence about them, a rarified purity, that is ennobling.

Cosnowski was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1968. In 1992, he graduated with a BFA from Columbus College of Art and Design and in 2000 with a MFA in painting from Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.  Since 2003 he has been a faculty member at the American Academy of Art in Chicago where he teaches advanced painting, intermediate drawing and portfolio.

Cosnowski has been included in numerous group exhibitions and has had more than a dozen solo exhibitions in cities throughout the US, in particular NYC, Chicago, San Francisco, as well as a 10-year retrospective at South Shore Arts in Munster, IN.