Wednesday, April 4, 2007

nicola tyson

Recently i saw some great Marlyn Monroe portraitsPainting should be easy to describe by now. However, to capture the damaged, feral character of Nicola Tyson’s figurative paintings is a tall order. Darkly sexual fetish portraits, stripped-bare psychoanalytic expositions, or records of physical deterioration, these works draw on the inheritance of Francis Bacon and Leon Golub to present the human body as a site of trauma and resistance. If Tyson’s paintings have any relationship to the disciplinary languages of art history and art criticism, it is only to draw attention to the radical incommensurability of art writing and its object—in fact, to the inadequacy of common language faced with uncommon imagery. Disco Dancing, 2006–2007, for example, is an ecstatic account of physical abandon, shot through with unsettling, macabre details. A sinewy figure with a washed-out pallor stands inert on the left-hand side of the canvas, transfixed by a vivacious, twirling black figure, all muscle and movement, to the right. Both of their faces are obliterated but animated, like an Otto Dix portrait made more indistinct and unsettling. The dynamic pink ground does nothing to mitigate the untamed character of the canvas. In Disco Dancing, as elsewhere in the show, the paint application is cleverly consonant with the subject. Tenuously thin in places, raw canvas threatens to burst through but rarely does. In its place, carefully applied underpainting emerges as the primary layer to create depth that is at once robust and delicate. Much like the figures that are her principle subject, Tyson’s painting is scoured and vulnerable but is also trenchantly present.

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