Jonathan Lyndon Chase
“Big Wash,” Jonathan Lyndon Chase’s first institutional exhibition—at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in the artist’s hometown of Philadelphia—is a paean to queer Black sociality in layers of ecstatic intimacy, limpid melancholy, and soapy ablution. The artworks created for this show inhabit the Laundromat as a space of mundane yet sensual community. A textile Chase created in collaboration with the FWM, Spread your wings and prepare to fly (all works 2020), features a bold pattern of butterfly silhouettes that hold bodies close together alongside images of unfurling rosebuds—a metaphor for pleasure points on the body: nipples, lips, anus, according to the artist. Chase’s fluorescent-orange and royal-purple fabric appears throughout the exhibition as both a painting support and a collaged element. It was also sewn into a set of boxers strung up between laundry carts, reinforcing the sartorial eroticism of the posterior while alluding to the early-2000s style of wearing one’s trousers or jeans below the hips, i.e., sagging.
Chase imbues the Laundromat, an essential site of urban American life, with queer spatiotemporal distensions and recursions that explore literary theorist Hortense Spillers’s assertion that “Black is vestibular to culture.” For Spillers, Blackness’s “vestibularity” underscores the liminal position of gendered and racialized personhood. For instance, them in the black dress and purse, one of the fabric sculptures in the gallery’s simulated Laundromat, enacts its vestibularity as a fabulous refusal to cohere. From the curvaceous stuffed cotton shape, a figure dressed in a sports bra and a pleated skirt emerges. The work subverts ascriptions of gender via hair laid in rippling waves, fanning eyelashes, and what might be stubble or a shadow cast on the upper lip and jaw. The figure’s manicured hand holds a flip phone displaying an incongruously high-res photo of a voluptuous derriere. Chase’s marvelously fulsome character tarries in the shared in-betweenness of gender fluidity and the transitory space-time of the coin laundry.
Chase deploys a range of painterly gestures to reframe washing as a communal erotic act. In two pieces on view the artist uses the FWM fabric as a ground to reveal scenes of queer intimacy. Curtains open is a painting that depicts a pair of figures behind a pastel wrought-iron window grate. The work is painted on the textile; however, the pattern does not become part of the background but is fashioned to resemble a pulled-back curtain to expose the copulation taking place behind it. This oscillation between surface and depth both enfolds and refuses access, embodying a titillating irresolution at the threshold of public and private. Sad forecast similarly inverts illusionism’s logic to announce queer intimacy as spatial play and tender reciprocity. It is an amorous domestic scene suffused with melancholy: The canvas depicts a trio of nude figures weeping before a curtained window. Their gargantuan tears drip across the work’s surface. One of them bends over and presses their asshole against the glass’s translucent sash bar in a moment of affective intimacy.
Throughout Chase’s oeuvre, the anus—frequently divorced from gender and gaped to luxuriate in perverse pleasures—instantiates spaces of sensual sacred queerness. Leather couch arch is a work made on pleather that depicts a lone figure. Their eyes are closed in anticipatory excitement and their ass is outlined with a thick, glittery strip of black paint that becomes the picture’s focal point. The artist’s gestural virtuosity allows the representation of skin and couch to intermingle with the support in an erotic transfiguration that merges corporeal pleasure with its domestic setting. The large canvas Suds adapts this sexual pose to the performance of handwashing. The figure faces the viewer while doubled over, their buttocks in air, as they scrub a floral sheet—which also happens to be their skin—on a washboard. This sensual amalgamation gives new meaning to the tagline LICK ME ALL OVER, emblazoned across the soap bars that prop the work up. Chase’s art positions the vestibularity of Black queerness as joyously mobile and sensually diffuse. Even the most banal of chores may be transformed, as the artist demonstrates with coy imagination and painterly finesse, into moments of reverence and ecstasy.