Farewell Books Gallery in Austin is hosting some mighty little paintings this winter. Jonathan Ryan Storm, a Houston-based artist, currently fills the small gallery with works he makes while he experiences migraine headaches. There are twelve oil paintings on thin canvases here; in this case I love that these paintings are in a bookstore—the relationship is a nice juxtaposition of two different ways to get lost inside one’s head (a bad headache, a good book). Most of Storm’s paintings are smallish, with limited color palettes, but two of them are a bit larger with a lot more going on; Storm has a distinct visual language with which he interprets his misery. His sense of ironic martyrdom helps things along.
The paintings do communicate some migraine experience, such as closing one’s eyes and seeing the bright trails of lightning and the colored circles of light flashing across the inside of one’s eyelids. They are very physiologically active. Hider in Nought, a black canvas with white morphing circles, recreates that space where I’m assuming Storm spends too much bitter time. And another, Teselate 2, positively buzzes with that sense of twanging, inescapable pain.
The titles of the works, beyond the Teselate pieces, are revealing. How to Stand Thunderous on an English Cliff has a straightforward manner with color and shape; it’s well-composed and its title, with a humorous grandiosity, brings to mind Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (1818). Appropriate to the theme of the exhibition: The Romantics and their minds, Mr. Storm and his head.
Walking out of the Big M sounds like the making of legend though is probably referring to coming out of a Migraine. It’s a larger painting full of colors and, within a loose and jumbled grid, careful drawings of Storm’s mental and actual environment. It’s cartoonish and immersive, and like a dollhouse or schematic cross-section, is still architectural.
The diptych Goma/Homa, which seems a little out of place here, is on one half an experimental sewn painting that looks like acid-washed black denim, and on the other side, a quiet combination of achromatic raw canvas and three primary color swipes emitting wide oil leaks.
The only drawback here are some of the substrates: they seem poorly constructed and too thin to give credence and proper physical and psychological support to the paintings. If only for want of a nice, deep canvas… .
And worth noting: the twelfth painting in the show is installed up high in the front of the bookstore, not within the gallery space (I had to ask where it was). This curatorial decision read as purely decorative to me, which too bad because it’s the last Teselate piece of four and it’s handsome to look at and an interestingly quiet painting that feels like falling asleep: it’s a midnight of constellations made up of milky points of light.