Born in Mission Viejo, California
Resides in Queens, New York
Step Mother Nature is presenting a conversation between long-time friends, critic and essayist Elizabeth Hoover and the featured artist Dave Mishalanie. In it, they discuss the changes in Mishalanie’s aesthetic from his days as an undergraduate at the Rhode Island School of Design to his more recent work, his interest in marks and erasures, and the various meanings of the gesture known as the facepalm in contemporary masculinity.
Elizabeth: In my office, I have a watercolor you gave to me when we were undergrads. It’s a pencil drawing of a burly man’s torso (Icarus), turning and laughing as color splashes in luscious blues with an unexpected orange splat here or there. Next to it is a smaller piece from the much-later “Ingredients” series, a grid of triangles topped with circles like the RKO radio tower printed on blotter paper.
When you sent me a third piece last summer, I was puzzled by it. The package contained the unfolded envelope I used to mail you a letter five years ago. At first, I thought you were apologizing for how long it took you to reply, but then I saw your signature and the title, “daze.” It took me a moment to realize you’d drawn on top of the envelope’s security pattern, adding reds, oranges, and purple. It was so stealth.
“daze” has a strange temporality, a present art piece made from a past document, a temporal hybrid, bearing the trace of both of our hands. It feels like a talisman of connection and of distance. The stealthy nature of the drawing prompted me to look at your work through the lens of concealment, and I saw acts of disappearing: shapes blurring into the background, words sometimes so faint they’re hard to read, and faceless figures dissolving while still seeming to loom over children watching TV. I’m curious to ask if this idea of stealth, hiding, and concealing resonates with you
Dave: While approaches to it vary from work to work, as a queer artist, hiding and/or concealment is a complicated yet integral part of my visual vocabulary, which includes ephemerality, ethereality; trace marks and gestures; erasures and redactions; hesitations; fragmented language; codes and symbols. At times hiding is something I’ve represented (i.e. as a quality or action of a figure). More often I think about what I’m after visually in terms of lost and found. In other words, the way forms and contours are described through a combination of additive and subtractive actions, a push and pull which culminates in a visual tension between defined and suggested forms and/or visual phenomena.
Works like ‘Icarus’ came about as the result of a turn toward the text. With works from that time, I wanted to meditate on the implications of narrative for painting. In “Icarus’, I was revisiting a traditional myth, only replacing a tragic ending with a comic one. Fast forward a decade and I would be working in series, elaborating on images through montage and variation, testing to see how diverse a set of visual themes I could juggle. By working in series, I was after a kind of spatial continuum across multiple panels that supported the comings and goings of different images and visual incidents, including text. In the “Ingredients” series, I was going for heterogeneity, for ideas and images that share a basis in narratives of public health and technology. Among sources I drew on: PSAs, Nam June Paik, nutritional facts labels, ergotism, psychedelics and, yes, the radio tower symbol.
After losing my studio in late 2018 I was lacking for space, so instead of trying to spread out and emphasize dynamics, I began thinking about monotony. I was interested in the experience of drone (sound), so I adopted the term to describe the approach I was taking visually, which focused heavily on mark-making and repetition. I went on to investigate similar approaches, using the grid and simple mark-making patterns to repeat color phrases. For me, the analogy of drone came to signify the mundane realm of non-thinking, of stupefaction. In this way, my work over the last few years has become preoccupied with themes of dumbness.
The drawing I did with your envelope is from a series I was making during March/April 2020, a group of work I call the “daze” series, also dating them so they serve as records of a nebulous time. The readymade pattern of the security envelope interested me, and I was curious if I could do something to integrate the hand. I repeated or modified a color phrase; gradually it became woven into the space of the security pattern. It hadn’t occurred to me about hiding or concealing the mark on the envelope, I guess I was thinking more about amplifying the printed matter. But I like the possibility that the drawing isn’t immediately apparent. With your envelope I wanted to embrace the history, the warmth of indexicality. As an object it was a record of dialogue. I like the term “temporal hybrid” to describe it.
The newer paintings in this exhibit are coming out of the apology piece I did in 2017. As with the apology, the new work features guys facepalming in various attitudes of despair.
Elizabeth: I want a more precise word/phrase than “facepalm.” The facepalm can be a kind of humorous gesture of “d’oh!” or a shorthand for making a mistake. It’s a weird gesture because it conceals the face, but at the same time feels public - it’s a gesture meant to be “read” in a particular way. Remember all those photos of stockbrokers facepalming that covered front pages of newspapers during the 2011 economic downturn? Is the gesture a public admission of the need to retreat into a private space?
In the first apology painting (the triptych) the gesture feels akin to those of the stockbrokers. The person is in public, admitting their shame with language while trying to hide its physical manifestation on the face. It’s as if he wants to make sure that the shame is contained within language, any bodily excess covered by the hand. Or is it a way of creating an alternative space to “hide in” that is both public and private? He’s hiding, but we all know where.
In the more recent images, the figures are in public settings, but not necessarily delivering a public message. Instead, they are trying to retreat from their surroundings, which seem to be breaking up into abstract marks on the brink of floating away as if their desire to just simply disappear is reflected in the breakdown of the background. These paintings feel like they are capturing a particularly masculine gesture since particular emotions (sadness, shame, grief) must be hidden by men while at the same time the public sphere is pervaded by an overabundance of cis-het men’s emotions, specifically anger, outrage, and desire. In these two paintings, the gesture feels different than the stockbroker’s facepalm or the figure in the apology painting. But why that is I can’t quite put words to. What is it about this gesture? Why do you want to paint it?
Dave: Let’s dispense with the neologism “facepalm” and think of it instead as a gesture of grief, with the root of this grief being an undisclosed shame. Whether a hat-tip to Masaccio’s Adam in his Expulsion or a distortion of Rodin’s Thinker, there is a simple defacement involved in the gesture, which, for me, is less about hiding and more an act of lamentation. Lately, I’ve been after a way of working that’s more direct about its subject. So it’s important to me that these figures convey shame and that it feels public. I want these figures to feel like they’re subjects of a public gaze, that their interior activities have been cancelled by external judgment(s). The process I see them participating in is one borrowed from vestiges of public shaming, something I’ve been thinking about for a while now. A question I’m trying to raise in this work: what is public shaming, and how do I want to deal with it visually?
Funny that you mention the horror-stricken stockbrokers from the newspapers. Among the images I’ve collected for the public shame series, clippings of stock-brokers feature. Actually, they’re among some of my earliest reference material for the latest series. There's a lamentation in them that interests me; a feeling I won’t call hurt but rather haunted. As with the apology piece, these new paintings take conventions of portraiture and complicate them emotionally through a self-deprecating gesture. (I know that we’re trying to dispense with neologisms, but in a sense they’re “erasing their maps”.) Without wanting to say too much about it, my hope is that, by depicting men lamenting their shame, the work pushes back on some of the awful cis-het priorities and patterns to which you refer. It presents men as sites stripped of any agency.
Unlike the apology piece, which was essentially monochromatic, the most recent paintings adapt the thinking about mark-making and color from the envelopes and apply it, much more loosely, to a process of expressing an image, making it tangible. The marks have more freedom to range, and a looser framework to describe, but they’re still accountable to repetition as well as representation. Color piled up into heaps of likeness.