On Proceed to the Nearest Exit

Paint rests on the surface of Barry Elkanick’s canvases like motor oil on parking lot puddles after showers. Monochromatic shades of whites and grays swirl around pastel hues of pinks and reds with contrasting blues and blacks. Each paint is sourced from cheap cans of home interior quality acrylics – think, the Martha Stewart Collection at your local Home Depot. His earliest works are comprised of this minimalist abstract aesthetic, but instead of appearing on freshly stretched canvas as the work does in Proceed to the Nearest Exit, Elkanick repurposed thrift store paintings, dipping them in white primer, masking the Sunday painter’s composition underneath. His cover up is not an art criticism. The reused or up-cycled art project begins when urgency and income don’t meet eye to eye. And when this reality is especially oppressive, the artist finds the means to work in any way possible. The thrift store paintings find a new home with Elkanick, they become his prime working materials; and one-by-one, treated to layers of paint, they are reborn. Elkanick’s cover up paintings make the claim: your trash is my treasure, and it is absolutely owned by me. They are the earliest examples of the DIY aesthetic found throughout much of his work. In Proceed to the Nearest Exit, the confrontation between economic hierarchy and creative labor (DIY) is given form as a large-scale installation, where his newest paintings rest high on jerry-built wood staircases.

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An Abstract Perceiver of the World: Barry Elkanick’s Labyrinths

Somewhat inexplicably, mysteriously, and as it turns out, fortuitously, upon hearing the title of this exhibition, “Proceed to the Nearest Exit,” my mind conjured up an image of circuitous hallways and tortuous passages, a glowing ember exit sign not far off in the distance, but its nearness an illusion, the end point of a snaking and meandering route. “A labyrinth in which all men would become lost,”[i] as Borges’s narrator Dr. Yu Tsan describes in the 1941 short story, “The Garden of Forking Paths.” Fortuitous, because threaded through my later conversations with Barry was a shared appreciation of magical realism, and in particular, Borges and his labyrinths.

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