Trey Abdella is a master of the unsettling. Bringing together influences from horror, comics and just generally morbid depictions of reality, the artist ushers the benign everyday into a complex realm filled with symbolic depictions of the foreboding.
Like the ‘dark cloud’ metaphor, Abdella’s art, which incorporates three-dimensional quasi-sculptural elements with painting, has that heavy feeling that hands in the air when something bad is going to happen. In some of his works, the bad thing has already happened. In others, it's just about to. Either way, we see that his dedication to capturing a moment lives in the area of deep tension, the kind of which could be sliced through with a knife.
A look through his materials - acrylic, resin, fabric, thumbtacks, rubber, glass etc - we see that this is no ordinary painter or painting. Not in conceptualisation, nor actualisation. His concepts are unique, steeped in kitschy horror, over-the-top drive-thru cinema material, doused with a heavy dose of nostalgia. Think Goosebumps, if it were actually scary.
Whether he’s read Stephen King’s novels or watched any of Alfred Hitchcock’s oeuvre is unknown, but they’re all apples from the same tree. The horror comes from anticipation. Thrives in the contrast of foreground focus and blurred background, the truth of the matter materialising in between these two physical realms.
Thanks to his ability to paint in a way so realistic it could easily be mistaken for a photo, but removed from the photorealist movement solely on his will to disrupt the expected process of an image, his audience becomes immersed in the pictures. Actually, they become a part of the picture. Without their complicity, just driven by a desperation to know what happens next - they lose all of their grip on who they are in the process. The madness is contagious.
Abdella seems hellbent on depicting the weird in ways that we’ve never seen before. From the innocuous white-picket suburban scene of a wavy haired blonde woman cutting her hedge to a kid splashing in a puddle, details emerge that feel infinitely chaotic. Any sense of order has long disappeared from his work.
The woman yields scissors, not shears. There’s a spider’s web in the corner, oddly out of place and, in the background, a child - probably her son - approaches the foreframe with trepidation. This is no suburban fantasy. It is a middle-class nightmare. Through each and every image, the world that, God forbid, could be real, is given characteristics of fantasy. They’re subtle, mind you. That's how to retain the fear. An uninterested eye would easily overlook it. Those who choose to look closer are often rewarded.
Referencing homely and wholesome scenes whilst inserting twists and turns in their narrative make-up frees the artist of any real label, much to his advantage. Each picture is a story, a series of moments built on apprehension. The more you look the more you get, just don't stare too long.
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