Magazine article Artforum International

Tommy White: Harris Lieberman

Magazine article Artforum International

Tommy White: Harris Lieberman

Article excerpt

Beginning in 1951, Robert Rauschenberg produced a number of so-called black paintings, which, with their thick, cracked surfaces, later prompted Helen Molesworth to suggest their resonance with "fecal matter: the smeared quality of the paint, the varying degrees of viscosity, and the color--shit brown and black." Her reading takes seriously the twin poles of pleasure and disgust that Rauschenberg so expediently summons. And yet, in his characteristic acts of wiping, pressing, and staining, he errs on the side of tactility--however exquisite--which is to say of desublimation. "Rauschenberg," as Molesworth makes clear, "radically reinserts the lower body into art."

Tommy White's work picks up where Rauschenberg's leaves off. For his second solo show at Harris Lieberman Gallery, White offered the optic and the haptic in equal measure. His five epic canvases--the pictorial scope and physical dimensions of which are made even more striking by the contrast of scale provided by little sprouts of hair that emerge, mushroom-like, from patches of most--comprise headless torsos and bodily fragments in various states of evacuation or decomposition. Homesick (all works 2006), for one, evinces a perfectly modeled, bubble-gum-pink leg emerging from an amorphous mass. Complete with a pendant of well-formed balls, it is awkwardly bent and pressed to the picture plane, uncanny (hence the title perhaps) in its hyperreality.

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Bloated and Pretty Please feature the torsos that are conspicuously absent from Homesick, but there are still no faces, just shit seeping through the open fingers of an outstretched hand or coils of fetal-looking entrails. In the signal-orange Bad for Boy, broad planes of color and watery runs of paint form and emanate from splayed buttocks. In all cases, the paint handling threatens to upstage the depicted "content," however aggressively evident it may be. …

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