You are walking down the street and you notice a discarded piece of bubblegum on the sidewalk. The shiny surface of the bluish-pink gob alludes to its freshness, yet the buildup of dust collecting at the edges belies its not-so-recent deposit. In addition, bits of urban detritus are beginning to adhere: candy wrappers, dried leaves, cigarette butts, perhaps a condom, bits of cellophane and dirt. It is organic and plastic, ugly and beautiful, fascinating and grotesque. It has its own story. If it could get up and go home it would, and that home exists in one of Russell Tyler’s paintings, on view now through March 20, 2010 at Freight + Volume in Chelsea.
The first time I saw one of the strange conical characters inhabiting Tyler’s canvases, I thought of the b-movie monster Frank Zappa referenced in his intro to “Cheepnis”. Certainly, these paintings crisscross the demilitarization zone between high and low art. In contemporary terms, Tyler’s loaded material application and expansive palette address our penchant for acquisition and accumulation. The scale and somewhat off-kilter space speak to this media culture, and suggest our inability to avoid or even shake off the bombardment of words and pictures assaulting us on a daily basis. But in new painting I also look for the lineage, and it too exists here. The unctuous paint in works such as Wolfman and Neapolitan Head can locate their provenance the work of 16th century painter Giuseppe Archimboldo as well as postwar Britain’s Frank Auerbach. Other works including What am I Doing? overtly display their classical family tree.
For those less interested in historical roots the chewing gum gob characters marching through No Ice Cream and Decomposing in the Land of Paradise, there is still the aforementioned b-movie monster movie It Conquered the World.
In the end, the multiple layers of meaning that Tyler packs into his paintings substantiate serious works that one can have fun with. If I am decomposing and this is paradise, I want to go out wearing those same red boots that Tyler’s creatures wear.