Those Who Remember

December 16, 2023–January 20, 2024

MOU PROJECTS is pleased to present "Those Who Remember," Blake Daniels' first solo exhibition with the gallery as well as in Hong Kong. Seamlessly weaving together a selection of recent paintings and drawings spanning the past two years, the exhibition centers around the theme of memory and explores its profound significance in shaping human motivations encompassing beauty, love, death, adoration, and empathy. Drawing concepts and narrative inspirations from a fictitious utopian kingdom named "Land of the Pomegranate" in Yukio Mishima's novel The Temple of Dawn (1970), Daniels constructs fantastical, dreamlike landscapes in their exhibited works, populated by people in states of transfiguration entangled in scenes that oscillate between beauty, violence, intimacy, profanity, and pleasure.

The works featured in the exhibition are deeply rooted in Daniels' memories of their loved ones, their daily encounters in Johannesburg, and the queer community inhabiting the city—all encapsulating the artist’s decade-long residence in this place. Across the five larger-format paintings in the show, the backdrops bear subtle references to the city's activities and sprawling vistas. As exemplified in Agony in the Garden of Gale (all works mentioned 2023), figures donned in blue on the leftward span of the composition are dressed in the archetypal uniform of laborers hired in the gardens across the city. To the right, caught in the arresting gaze of the viewers, two figures near the periphery of the canvas sit in repose, engaged in a moment of leisure, emanating a sense of speculation and self-awareness—they are friends of the artist, looking not at the scene in which they inhabit but outwards, implying the viewer as an integral part of the painting's mythical narrative.

In Daniels' paintings, close friends, lovers, and even themselves are depicted as figures in a morphing state, with the shape of their form seemingly devoured by the surrounding landscapes. Each composition is subtly and intricately staged as the bodies gradually dissipate, revealing religious and historical motifs. In A Profane Love, a mysterious dark figure in the woods merges with the ground, their reclining pose evoking the bride from Titian's Sacred and Profane Love (1514). By exploring the intersection of profanity, love, and Christianity, the work taps into the control of violence within the historical framework and uncovers the queer side of these deeply human narratives. With the belief that the inability to comprehend or identify something does not alter its inherent essence, Daniels tackles the representation of queerness, enabling their works to advocate for a deeper understanding beyond visibility.

A suite of small paintings and drawing studies are presented in the show as footnotes to the larger works, elaborating and shedding light on the artist's mind mapping and artistic process. Daniels treats memory as a formal device, archiving it through a rigorous practice of drawing and writing. In Figure in Tree off the R24, a haunted figure is tangled in pink toned tree branches, a repeating visual theme that alludes to a similarly uncanny character in A Profane Love, while three absinthe tined skeletons cradling an earthy orange body in Untitled (Pietà at Golgotha) renders as a prototype for the central motif of the Pietà in Agony in the Garden of Gale. Daniels utilizes the studies, including both drawings and paintings, in their artistic process to consolidate and refine specific sections of their works. These studies enable them to create smaller, focused moments within the larger composition. By zooming in on a single figure or even incorporating smaller details, Daniels adds depth and nuance to their work. Although these individual moments may differ from the overall composition in terms of scale or subject matter, they play a pivotal role in shaping the narrative and aesthetic of the artist's practice as a whole.

In Mishima's The Temple of Dawn, the character Yasushi Imanishi elaborates on the notion of memory in his fantasy of "The Land of the Pomegranate." He states, "Memory is the sole matter of our spirit. Even should a god appear at the climax of sexual possession, then that god becomes 'the remembered one,' and the lover becomes 'the one who remembers.'" The figures depicted in Daniels' paintings transcend being mere subjects; they represent friends and lovers who play a vital role in the artist's memory-making process. Through portraying these figures as both the familiar and unfamiliar, the figurative and abstract, Daniels' work alludes to a state of in-betweenness that challenges conventional structures and norms in representation and identity politics.

About the Artist
Blake Daniels (b. 1990, Cincinnati, US) renders expressive figures, often familiar, within intimate landscapes in an otherworldly territory that lingers between reality and fantasy, exploring themes of belonging, memory, utopia, and the afterlife. Through vibrant colors, dynamic brushstrokes, and textured surfaces, Daniels creates magical-realist dreamscapes that delve into the personal and socio-political dimensions of identity formation and adaptation. They draw inspiration from the traditions of storytelling, queer cultural practices, art history, and personal memories to chart diverse perspectives on contemporary society and politics. With the subject matters of their works revolving largely around the subversive queer communities in Johannesburg, Daniels weaves together vibrant narratives and explores how we mourn, heal, and find vitality in the seemingly impossible worlds we inhabit together.

Daniels received their BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2013 and their MFA from the University of the Witwatersrand in 2017. They are the recipient of the Emerging Artist Grant at Rema Hort Mann Foundation in 2022 and have taken residency programs with the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and Académie des beaux-arts × Cité internationale des art in Paris.

The artist currently lives and works between Paris, France and Johannesburg, South Africa.

Artist CV

Interview with Blake Daniels

Those Who Remember

December 16, 2023–January 20, 2024

Low Resolution

Sophie Varin

February 3–March 9, 2024

Those Who Remember

Blake Daniels

December 16, 2023–January 20, 2024

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