Eighteen is pleased to present

How’s Your Spirit?
A solo exhibition by James Ulmer


How’s your spirit? A deceptively simple question open to infinite interpretation and a fitting analogy for Brooklyn-based painter James Ulmer’s first solo exhibition with V1 Gallery / Eighteen. Presenting 10 works on canvas created during times of social and emotional uncertainty, How’s Your Spirit? provides a subtle, psychological, and at times tongue-in-cheek chamber play, in which the prosaic and the metaphysical find remarkable balance.

Ulmer draws inspiration from contrasting sources, from graphic novels, children’s toys, and commercial illustration, to Western art history, he joins a continuum of artists, for whom painting is an exercise mediated through visualities reaching far beyond its legacy. Indeed, his works evoke something akin to the frames of a comic strip, each revealing a small, self-contained narrative populated with brightly colored, one-dimensional humans in everyday scenes, jogging in the park, sitting by the dinner table, or gazing out the window. Devoid of facial expression and hovering amidst flat, graphical blocks of color, Ulmer’s subjects are purposefully generic – they seem to exist somewhere between the easy legibility of a road sign and the stylized, cultic symbolism of ancient art. Figurative painting’s historical purpose of chronicling quotidian life still rings true for the artist, yet straddling the middle ground between the immediately decipherable and the highly enigmatic allows him to complicate perception and introduce a surreal and unsettling undercurrent.

In the exhibition’s eponymous work, a red devil fills the left half of the foreground, seemingly lurching over a throng of people in profile. This recurring character, a cartoonish Satan, is more like a dime store toy figurine than a threatening or monstrous element. However, in Ulmer’s work, even the straightforward gestures, and the naive and almost child-like, colorful depictions of animals, trees and still life objects, come across as highly ambiguous, while archetypal, virtually mythical symbols such as snakes and devils become compositional and allegorical portents of emotional discord. Nothing is happening, yet everything is about to happen. It is exactly this restrained, essentialist visual language that opens the works up to the enigmatic and undefined - a liminal space on the surface of the canvas where the economy between form, content and meaning is arrested, teetering on an edge between trivial normality and psychological tension.

James Ulmer, b. 1981, holds a BFA in Illustration and Design from Arts, Philadelphia, PA, US. He currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York, US. Recent major exhibitions include Painting Pictures, The Hole, New York, US; Laid Back, Marvins Gardens, Ridgewood, New York, US; Good Pictures, Jeffrey Deitch Gallery, New York, US; 12, PM/AM, London, UK, and JJ, Amala Gallery, Tokyo, Japan. How’s Your Spirit? is his first solo exhibition with V1 Gallery / Eighteen. The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue, available in-gallery and online.

Text by Assistant Director Astrid Wang