LOS ANGELES — At first glance, the works by Aryo Toh Djojo in his exhibition This Too Shall Pass at Sow & Tailor feature all the main characters of Los Angeles: palm trees, car beams and streetlights, cotton candy sunsets, hillside sunrises. These are images you might see every day scrolling through social media, or if you live in LA, images that you’ve taken yourself on your camera phone. But moving from one canvas to the next, there is one detail that belies the clichéd imagery: signs of another lifeform, participating in what you thought were your moments — an up-close UFO in one, a mere dot punctuating the night sky in others.
Aryo Toh Djojo’s paintings capture the jarring moment of looking at a familiar photograph, only to notice something slightly amiss. It’s unsettling when it dawns on you that this fleeting moment also belonged to another, that someone or something was there with you. Some works, like “Tempted to Touch” (2022) depict the dark shadow of an alien looming in the background of a quick nighttime snapshot, and feel a bit on the nose. In other works, Djojo utilizes one pinpoint of paint to signal otherworldly beings, like when we try to take a picture of a colossal moon in the night sky only to realize what is captured is but an unimpressive speck of light. With “11:11” (2022), Djojo crops closely to display digital clock numbers, invoking the old magic of making a wish upon seeing those four identical numbers — a spectral time.
Djojo paints these seemingly quotidian scenes with an acrylic airbrush. A series of portraits in the back room of the gallery exemplifies the artist’s technical skill with the medium, portraying velvety skin tones that blend and reflect gentle light. Delicate strands of hair, wispy and naturally placed in both “Peer Pressure” (2022) and “They Live” (2022), attest to Djojo’s prowess. In the large triptych “Contact High” (2022), Djojo illustrates intricate lace underwear, the haziness of the airbrush lending itself to the gossamer nature of the fabric. The softness of the works recalls our collective memories of Southern California, the sticky residue of the airbrush clouds reminiscent of the hazy LA smog, desert dust, or Pacific marine layer. The artist’s pointed cropping of the images, coupled with the gentle blur of his airbrush, lends to a tension that allows the mind to fill in the details between each spray and beyond the canvas.
In the main room, one of the larger works “Letting That Shit Go” (2022) commands immediate attention. Drawing closer to the image of the meditating Buddha in a cloud of sherbet orange, the form swirls away as each airbrush pigment seems to separate and vibrate — similarly to a pointillist painting where the image, unified at a distance, breaks into distinct strokes of color as you near the work. Subtle layers of paint nimbly form folds of cloth and outline soft rolls of skin. A mist of orange seems to glow beyond the confines of the canvas to engulf your vision, while an ever-present glowing point in the distant sky winks at you. An orange circular carpet lined with red seated cushions sit in the center of the gallery, plants in white pots dotting its perimeter, as a sound installation breaks through the silence at periodic moments. As time elapses, it becomes apparent that we are being asked to do more than just view a painting — we are being invited to enter it.
With each work, Djojo encourages us to stay a while and scan through our own internal rolodex of images. The familiarity of his depictions acts like a portal for viewers to step into, while the presence of celestial beings in his compositions bid us to question what might have been missed during those moments. His paintings prompt an interior paradigm shift that no one else around would notice, leaving us to ask ourselves what we might have missed in our own lives while we were taking the photo.
This Too Shall Pass is on view at Sow & Tailor (3027 South Grand Avenue, Downtown, Los Angeles) through May 15. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.