Night Gallery is pleased to present Goodbye Earl, an exhibition of new paintings by Bambou Gili. This is the artist’s first solo show with the gallery, following her inclusion in the gallery’s 2022 group presentation Shrubs.
Gili is known for her surreal, figurative oil paintings, which reference art historical compositions and employ atmospheric, often nocturnal color palettes. Her new work builds on this style while responding to pressing contemporary concerns: following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade and a spate of assaults against Asian American women, the artist offers a fantastical narrative about female friendship, vengeance, and revolution.
The show takes loose inspiration from The Chicks’ 1999 song “Goodbye Earl,” a wry, upbeat murder ballad that tells the story of two high school friends—Wanda and Mary Anne—who kill Wanda’s abusive husband. Gili abstracts this tale in her cinematic canvases, walking viewers through the song painting by painting. She refers to her process of finding art historical compositions to work from as “location scouting.” Her figures and settings change dramatically throughout the exhibition, giving the series a sense of universality.
The show begins with Mary Anne and Wanda were the best of friends (2022), which depicts the titular friends standing in prom dresses, clutching each other’s arms. Gili replicates the type of image the press often publishes about missing women, highlighting their innocence to gain public sympathy. Gili subverts this trope in subsequent canvases, turning would-be victims into powerful, righteous perpetrators. In Goodfellas (2022), Mary Anne and Wanda have embraced their violent, more masculine instincts. Gili bathes her figures in an angry red glow, clothing them in mobster suits and giving one a sharp sword.
Nature itself becomes witness and accomplice to the murder. Full Moon (2022), Goya’s Ghost (2023), and In the Reeds (2022) all feature the lake where Wanda and Mary Anne deposit Earl’s dead body. These paintings take inspiration, respectively, from the compositions of Alfred Väinö Blomstedt, Francisco Goya, and a 12th century illustration of Saint Quentin, the patron saint of prisoners. Gili’s haunting, epically scaled canvas Earl’s Descent (2022) employs over a dozen shades of blue and careful studies of light to capture Earl sinking to his final resting place. The viewer looks up through the water, towards the body and the women’s boat above. Gili modeled the painting off medieval illustrations of an angel falling from heaven to Hell. Here she trades a fiery underworld for a sublime, aquatic landscape.
In the final canvas Jam Stand (2023), Wanda and Mary Anne appear together, and happy, at their new joint venture: a jam stand (the bucolic setting reflects the view outside Gili’s new studio in New Mexico). The pair never wanted to kill Earl—they did what they needed in order to be free. Gili’s canvases convey tenderness, grace, and hope for anyone who might be in such a predicament.
Bambou Gili (b. 1996, New York, NY) presented her debut solo exhibition at Arsenal Contemporary, New York in 2021. Her work has been featured in group shows at Night Gallery, Los Angeles; Jeffrey Deitch, New York; Lyles & King, New York; Galerie Perrotin, New York; WAOW Gallery, Hong Kong; and Asia Art Center, Taipei, among others. She has appeared in publications including Elephant, Artnet News, and Artsy. Gili lives and works in New Mexico.