Artist Jurell Cayetano sips a beer while watching his paintings being hung on the wall of The Gallery by Wish in Little 5 Points. It’s his diptych called “Troy,” and the scene depicted in the two paintings could either be an update to a classic painting of a Greek bacchanal or a scene from a college student’s typical Friday night.
In it, two young men lie passed out on the floor, each facing the opposite direction. One has his hand still on an open laptop, the other near an open box of takeout.
“It’s a picture I took back in 2014 in an old apartment I used to live in,” he said.
“It’s like one of the most poetic pictures ever,” Cayatano says. “It was already balanced. It’s like yin and yang.”
The show “TRPL-DBL” (pronounced “triple double”) features Cayatano’s work alongside that of Gerald Lovell and the artist FRKO. The scene depicted in that painting of the two dudes on the floor is pretty familiar to Lovell — he and Cayatano are roommates.
“That was when he came from school, I’d dropped out of school, we all crashed at this apartment. It was like, what? Six people?” Lovell laughs. “Around that time, I didn’t know what I was gonna do with my life. Jurell had just got his bachelor’s at [The School of Visual Arts in New York]. He kinda convinced me into doing this. He was like ‘You don’t have to go back to school.’”
Lovell laughs again.
“If this hadn’t worked out, I probably would hate him!”
With their work side by side, it’s apparent that the two developed their techniques in close proximity, but where Jurell tends to focus on candid scenes of friends hanging out, Lovell has taken on a unique approach to faces. In one portrait of his friend Yahteer, Lovell finds him sitting on a couch, his phone cradled in his hands, and he looks at the viewer as if glancing up from a text.
The scene is completely natural, but Yahteer’s brown face and hands are made up of thick layers of paint, creating a deeply textured look that jumps off the image.
“Studying the way other black portrait artists emphasize skin tones and color, I kinda landed on this. This is kind of my take on it,” Lovell says. “To put more emphasis on the actual person. Like, yeah, you can see he has on Jordans, he’s holding his phone, he’s on a couch that’s kinda messed up. But it’s like his face, this is what I really want you to take in.”
When Lovell dropped out of college, he was studying graphic design, but he says he hated it and wasn’t very good at it. When he moved in with Cayatano, he used his friend as a resource to learn painting techniques.
“And then one day he came to me with a painting that was like the prototype of this, and was like ‘what do you think about this?’” Cayatano recalls.
“And I was like ‘That. Keep doing that. I don’t have to talk to you anymore.’”
“TRPL-DBL” is their first show in a traditional white walled gallery space, and places their work alongside an artist they consider to be like a big brother in their scene, FRKO, whose wild, cartoonish paintings both compliment the quiet portraits and scenes of drunken revelry and solidify the sense of playfulness and humor in the show.
At the same time, there is an intimacy to the exhibit. At a time when young black artists in Atlanta and beyond are almost expected to offer profound statements on race, it feels refreshing and necessary to see them at their most unguarded and surrounded by friends. I ask Gerald Lovell about his choice of subjects.
“I see people paint really important people in pop culture and things like that,” he says. “And to me, the people around me are pretty damn important.”