This year, I found many artists participating in the 2010 Bushwick Open Studios are overlaying faces and bodies with bright splotches, fluorescent dabs, and other patterns. Such “fauvist tattoos” — as I like to call them — spice up these figures, while making them look more provocative and enticing. Fauvism is a term with some historical baggage but I think it articulates the colorful zest many artists are layering onto skin — it’s like they are covering their figures with painterly tattoos. After a decade epitomized by airbrushed photographs that cast the face as a smooth, even and perfect plane of color, these artists are rebelling with wickedly raw and vibrantly colored skin. It was a welcome surprise.
Jim Herbert’s “Naked People” (2010) is painted in oil and hang on the back wall of the English Kills Art Gallery. This detail demonstrates just how many layers of color Herbert can pack onto skin. An analogy to Oskar Kokoschka is tempting but his brushwork creates a thicker density of color and his symbolism invokes a rawer less sublimated take on sexuality.
Maro Hagopian (aka Miss Maro) may not be a painter but the photographs on the wall of her studio echoed this fauvist tattoo trend. One of the recurring themes in her work is the outlandish masks that people create with makeup. For example, her photo “Ziggy Starlet” (2008) depicts the lead singer of an all girl David Bowie Tribute Band. The use of pink make-up far exceeds the typical light rouge on the cheeks. Another photo by Hagopian depicts Lady Gaga before she catapulted to fame. There is a deep exchange between the face in contemporary painting and the cutting edge of street fashion.
Heather Garland’s fluorescent self-portrait “Thirty” (2010) was hung over the weekend at Arch Collective (18 Wyckoff Avenue). Marking her 30th birthday, its rich layers of neon colors and random splatters form into her face. Matisse and the Fauves never explored this radioactive side of the color spectrum. Garland is taking Fauvism in a more disco-colored direction, which feels fresh, even it is obviously steeped in the lessons and history of 20th C. painting.
On the second floor of 119 Ingram studio complex, Timothy Rollin Rickerill gazes at the darker side of war. His oil painting “Dead 19” (2009) is based on a photo of a war corpse. His stylized depiction of rotting flesh is not for the feint of heart, but it was another formally commanding depiction of an abnormal and unusual face. Although the fauvist label doesn’t match the more gothic tones and mood of the work, it reflects a similar artistic boredom with the perfected face of fashion magazines. The influence of English painter Francis Bacon is evident in his work but so are other influences, like Native American masks.
Layton Hower’s acrylic painting “Entitlement” (2003) provoked a fight between me and another man at the Archive on Saturday night. (The Original hangs on the second Floor of 1 Grattan Studio Complex.) As I showed him this glowing neon portrait of George and Laura Bush on my digital camera, he said that it just did nothing for him. His tone suggesting that it had no deeper substance and implying Bush was a terrible president.
I liked it more the way I appreciate Warhol’s clever color and haunting hollowness. The speckles of blue across Bush’s face, the pink and red patches in Laura’s hair, there was so much going on. It really beat the standard boring naturalism of most US Presidential portraits — though John F. Kennedy did have his painted by Elaine de Kooning.
Kazuo Ooka’s massive studio on the fourth floor of the 2 Harrison Street complex featured his recent oil series of multi-chromatic figures modeled after Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker” (1902). “Thinker #6” is among the strongest in the series. The figure’s musculature is lavishly developed by streaks of green, red, and orange. It’s hard to pull off a background that is bright colorful but still doesn’t compete and divert attention away from the focus of the picture. Ooka knows how to strike a careful compositional balance that produces a wonderful paintings.
It has been 105 years since Louis Vauxcelles coined the term Fauvism when he encountered bright, vivid (and arguably garish) colors at the 1905 Salon d’Automne. Nevertheless, a hundred years later and across the ocean in Brooklyn, an intense burst of bright color still goes a long way. Pink jolts and green streaks danced on these skins like tattoos. Matisse is back from the dead and training artists at an underground Tattoo Parlor in Bushwick.