Nick Angelo: "Reality Becomes a Playground"

26 March - 23 April 2022

Sebastian Gladstone is thrilled to announce “Reality Becomes a Playground,” a series of new paintings and models by Los Angeles-based artist Nick Angelo. The exhibition will run from March 26th to April 23rd, 2022 with an opening on Saturday, March 26th from 6-9PM. Presented together for the first time, these new “stage paintings” posit different points of contact for the artist’s personal insecurities related to the contemporary world, while reflecting society’s impositions on the self through free-enterprise, commodification, public policy, and popular culture. 


The paintings very literally create scenes for the viewer to inhabit, however, by keeping the framework visible, Angelo invites the viewer to question the makeup of the image and the facade of our world at large. The works reference television shows, museums, boardrooms, bunkers, and various real-world scenes which the artist has placed Easter-eggs within. The paintings become puzzles for the viewer to dissect, and the revolving motifs lead from one image to another, creating an almost carousel-like rhythm. Within the works, Angelo paints scenes that land between isolation and fantasy. Projected through the imagery are rooms with no occupants where the viewer enters the driver's seat. The scenes propose a civilization in decline, rife with fear, misinformation, confinement, confusion, and exhaustion. We see rooms that are actually staged, then we see the set, the lighting, the cameras; we view the picture ourselves, we become the director, the actor, and the producer–playing with dollhouse props laid down before our arrival. 


While some of the settings are familiar or even immediately recognizable, such as the living room set of the TV show “Friends,” others are more obscured, even sinister. Yet, in all of his work, there is a voyeuristic element obscuring the possibility of a pure viewing experience, tainting it with a brain-tingling intrusion we all are taking part in, like going into a stranger's home and rifling through their drawers. Many of the settings posit places where society breaks down, such as the fantastical bedroom of an incel in Stage Painting (Empowered and Confined, Adulterated), or  where society reorients malignantly, such as an office within a right-wing think tank seen in Stage Painting (MetaNarrative 6, Adulterated). Even with some of these locations existing in real life, all of these scenes are theoretical and rooted in fantasy, like all sets. This allowance given to the viewer creates an openness of dialogue within the paintings that accepts different viewpoints, experiences, and understandings of the pieces within the scenes, inhibiting the proposed outcome of understanding. Although extremely specific references pepper the scene, the paintings are left open for interpretation as a reflection of one’s own dispositions and worldviews, giving everyone their own personal “Truman Show” experience.


Throughout the work, Angelo offers examples of where artists may stand within this framework, using Mike Kelley, Julie Becker, and David Wojnarowicz as primary examples. These three artists, who shared issues with mental health, addiction, physical health, or all at once, are referenced through images of their work that recur throughout Angelo’s paintings. Kelley and Becker are incorporated as artists who have greatly influenced the artist’s practice and who Angelo regards as aesthetically and canonically free in their expression yet paradoxically confined and constricted by personal issues. Clues throughout the paintings pay homage, inspect, and speak with the work of Angelo’s predecessors. 

Taken a step further, two of the paintings have been developed into three-dimensional miniature models with the goal of creating a further disorientation between fantasy and reality. These models allow the viewer to inspect multiple viewpoints of the same scene, giving complete control of viewership, but withholding autonomy from the subject matter. An experience comparable to playing The Sims while the computer screen is frozen, or the famous propaganda scene in “A Clockwork Orange,” the ominous feeling of seeing but not being able to adjust what is happening climaxes in the back and forth meta-narrative of the models of the paintings, which are models of a thing, of a simulation of a thing–it is an infinite wormhole of the artist's mind, and our own projections therein.


Installation Views