May 3, 2013

One Painting Review: Llyn Foulkes' Pop

The Llyn Foulkes retrospective at the Hammer Museum ends with the painting Pop, an illuminated relief painting situated within a pitch-black room filled with a tune composed by the artist.  The painting depicts the artist as an aging, shell-shocked father glued to his television, dressed in a Superman shirt and gripping a Diet Coke.  In the room with him are his two children, his daughter with her hand on his shoulder and his son listening to a tape recorder and holding an open book with text drawn from the Micky Mouse Club handbook that reads, "I will be a square shooter, I will be a good American."  The iconographic elements within the painting - the Superman t-shirt, the Diet Coke cup, the baseball on the floor, the calendar dated to the day of the Hiroshima bombing, etc. - are poignant symbols within a particularly American psyche.

The culmination of these symbols draws attention to Foulkes' ongoing narrative of anxiety about corporate powers at work - a paradoxical feeling of both helplessness and pacification by way of entertainment which has resulted in the commercialization of the self, a Disney-fied government, and disappointment in our Superman president.  The expression of disgust towards American capitalism and immersive pop culture is not a particularly unique perspective in contemporary art, which is why it is rare when a work is able to communicate this feeling without being trite.  Foulkes' stance does not come off as trite because it does not adhere to the currency of unique ideas within contemporary art.  Foulkes adopts a narrative of tired resignation, illustrating himself with an intoxicated look in his eyes, a facial expression of vacant submission.

The music emanating from the painting is darkly patriotic and carnivalesque.  The domestic setting for an American dystopia is perfectly preserved in the diorama-like painting.  Various styles converge in the work which plays with an exaggeratedly banal King of the Hill caricature, the grotesque thickness of a Phillip Guston painting, and the illusionistic qualities of Magritte.

The experience of staring at Foulkes' illuminated painting in complete darkness gives the impression of watching television alone in the dark.  The familiar sense of a glowing box existing as another entity in the room and the perception of depth within the painting creates a hi-definition impact.  Foulkes' painting goes much deeper that flat illustration.  Pop emanates a deeply personal narrative that is undeniably sincere in its depiction of humor, disappointment and decay.

(Image at top: Llyn Foulkes, Pop, 1985-90, in the collection of MOCA, Los Angeles)

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