Harkawik is pleased to announce Routing, our fourth solo presentation with New York-based painter Clayton Schiff. Routing finds Schiff focusing his attentions more deeply, in directions inward and outward, situating his subjects along pathways resembling roads, communications networks, medical diagrams, subway maps, tangled webs of cables, and generally pondering life’s many bewildering journeys.

Like his figures, which are all the more human in their absence of features, these are pathways without geographic borders, and often without place. They snake off into the horizon, infinitely extensible and without proper relation to distance and scale, maddeningly lacking in markers, or else resembling a kind of ambient space, in which pathway, and time itself, is suspended. To enter Schiff’s “all journey, no destination” universe is to succumb to a kind of crushing sameness, a relentless and terrifying equanimity of all things.

Space demands space, and Routing also finds Schiff exploring larger formats, which afford new opportunities and quandaries alike. En Route, Schiff’s largest work to date, collapses personal and cartographic space, presenting a ragged traveler enthusiastically approaching an impossibly small backdrop of roads that interpenetrate in a futile snare. The roads seem to serve no purpose and lead to no fixed place, but the busy tangle becomes a sufficient stand-in for a destination, a de facto city to arrive at.

In Going Places, lemur-like creatures appear indifferent to the pathways that envelop them. One observes the scene lazily, pointing to the spot where a path changes abruptly from burgundy to moss; her feet, each a different color, offer clues to the overlapping inward and outward journeys on display, as well as a record of the changes repeatedly made to the world they are bound to inhabit. Over There further elaborates on this duality of perspective. We see a gaunt individual perched at attention, surveying a path that extends into the hills beyond an open window. Yet our vantage and the subject’s are not the same, and though we look through the same window, we are not able to see where it leads.

In Evening Stroll we see a melancholy figure stopped halfway across an art deco bridge, observing pedestrians on the street below who are caught in an accidental mise en scène. In the distance, two companions make their way toward us, their faces oddly abstracted, and bearing striking similarity to a crop of trees just beyond them. This is one of the moments shared with Schiff’s most surprising works, in which he allows happy accidents to attain intentionality and significance; we see the region in which he added more “sky,” creating what might be a face in profile and straddling the space in-between composition and painterly discovery. Schiff’s strategy of layering and accumulating color is applied evenly to municipal structure, to limbs, and foliage, giving the entire work not only the feeling of age, of time’s many small cuts but the actual patina of wear itself. It is as if the entire painting is composed, painted, defaced, and painted over again—“cleaned up” to become useful once more, like so many mail trucks, self-storage facilities, or freeway overpasses.

In Cleanup, we see a not-quite-animal, not-quite-human creature is grasping an industrial vacuum in an austere hallway. There’s nothing in the picture to grab or overwhelm; instead, Schiff leaves us a multitude of small coincidences to discover and unpack. Lights hover above like UFO’s, fingers coil like vines, trash is scattered at oddly even intervals, and the hallway snakes off into what might be an infinite loop. The parity between the creature’s snout and tool of choice, its feather-duster tail, and the infiniteness of the unidentifiable trash, all seem to suggest that the character is being subsumed by its endless toil. Here, Schiff offers us a meditation on the terror of the ordinary, the interminability of work, and the arbitrariness and indifference of institutional settings.

Routing shows us that the journey within—the attempt to peel back the layers of the psyche, to navigate the terrain of the known, to attain self-knowledge—might be as fraught with pitfalls and false narratives as navigating the world “out there.” It suggests that each of us has one small window on the hopeless insurmountable totality of human experience, and that being lost, confused, and befuddled might be something to not only accept but celebrate.