Darryl Westly sees himself in tragic news headlines

1969 Gallery (39 White St, New York, NY 10013) presents “A Dream Deferred,” Darryl Westly’s first solo exhibition at the gallery consisting of oil paintings made during the tumultuous last few years. Ruminating on events both public and personal during the COVID-19 pandemic, Darryl Westly paintings question what becomes of unrealized dreams and ambitions.

Westly’s Axon body cam series and garden settings confront events from the last year that have not only become embedded in public memory on a global scale, they were also extremely personal to the artist and his own past experiences.

Axon Body 3 2020.5.25 (George Floyd) depicts a bodycam still from that tragic day on May 25, 2020. This event resonated heavily with the artist, who at just seventeen years old, was stopped by police, pulled from a car by a female officer with a gun aimed at his head screaming, “I’m going to blow your brains out motherfucker – put your fucking hands up,” before being detained and questioned for hours. The officers mistook Westly and his friends for drug dealers distributing from a similar model of car.

Studying the body cam footage of George Floyd, Darryl Westly empathized with how Floyd must have felt in those moments and how, in a different world, the outcomes of each event could have been very different.

“What were the officers focusing on? Was it my / his skin? Was it our features, our expression? What could have been?”

Hadiqa Jardin Garden, captures a fractured memory before the catastrophic explosion in Beirut, Lebanon on August 4, 2020–where Darryl Westly completed a residency 2016. Westly frantically attempted to reach out to friends and loved ones in the city, praying that they were safe. Galleries, museums, restaurants and places he visited frequently had been completely erased.

The work features cerulean blues that coated the houses, cadmium greens reminiscent of the palm trees and gardens found lining the streets of the city, oranges and reds reminiscent of the brilliant sunsets seen from the coast out between the crumbled facade of a building destroyed by the blast. This piece originated as a print collaboration between Westly and fellow artist Andrew Ross hosted by Basic.Space to raise funds for the Beirut Art Residency relief fund after the tragedy.

The use of social media and documentation play an important role in Westly’s work, not only in learning about individuals’ experiences and perspectives during events throughout the world, but also by way of our means of communication and our interpersonal relationships. Westly is known for depicting friends, subjects who generally sit for the artist in-person. With the pandemic progressing, he began communicating with each of his models through social media and collaborating within the digital sphere. Each individual expressed feelings and experiences of what this time has meant to them, life before, during and post-quarantine. Unable to travel, unable to see loved ones, loss of jobs, loss of loved ones, falling out of love, falling in love. Westly’s painted “dreams” combine memories, associations, and photographs replacing the grim realities of this time for both artist and subject.

The show’s title, “A Dream Deferred,” is a reference to the poem Harlem from the book “A Montage of A Dream Deferred” by the Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over—

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. 

Or does it explode?

-Langston Hughes, “Harlem” from “Montage of a Dream Deferred,” 1951

The exhibition will be on view through October 23, 2021.

About the Artist

Darryl Westly (b. 1989 Chicago, IL) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. He received his BFA from the Cooper Union in 2014 and previously completed the Pratt Institute Sculpture Program. After graduating, Westly was recruited to work as a finish painter under artist Jeff Koons.

In 2016, he participated in the Beirut Art Residency Program.

Currently, he paints full-time and exhibits his work internationally. Darryl worked additionally as an independent curator, art advisor and is a board member of the fundraising initiative Black Artist Fund.

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