Joe Coleman: Tilton Gallery
Schwendener, Martha, Artforum International
Western art's cozy relationship with Catholicism ended somewhere in the eighteenth century, but a vestige of it persists in the work of Joe Coleman. The first item in the brief biography on the artist's website reads, "1953: Jacqueline Hoban marries Joseph Coleman Sr., and is excommunicated" (his mother remarried without the church's blessing). Subsequent entries include "1963: Draws first pictures of bleeding saints, death by fire and stabbing" and "1967: 'Confesses' to committing several murders, to a priest at St. Mary's Catholic Church, Norwalk, CT."
Religious allusions were abundant in Coleman's recent show at the Tilton Gallery. The gallery was darkened and Coleman's paintings were illuminated individually like icons in a chapel, and a loosely installed selection from the artist's "Odditorium" (a personal cabinet of curiosities) included a statue of a female saint in ecstasy, an autopsy photograph, and some found sculptures of severed heads. Coleman's paintings are dense compositions in the stylistic vein of Hieronymous Bosch by way of R. Crumb; his pantheon includes actors, artists, criminals, and oddball celebrities. Public Enemy Number One (John Dillinger), 1999, chronicles, in comic-strip style, the life and times of the 1930s gangster and popular hero. Tenebrae for Gesualdo, 2004, is a single panel, divided up into altarpiece-like sections, that tells the tale of Carlo Gesualdo, a sixteenth-century Italian composer and aristocrat who murdered his wife and her lover, and possibly also his son and father-in-law. Gorcey, 2006, examines the career of movie actor Leo Gorcey, who played a hooligan in various midcentury movies. Grosz, 2006, memorializes German Dadaist and Neue Sachlichkeit artist George Grosz. …