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A radical intimacy pervades many aspects of Jonathan VanDyke’s remarkable body of work. His practice, an expansion of painting that embraces space, gesture and multilayered visual codings, pivots around the extended dialogue between the artist and his collaborators.
Since 2011, VanDyke has generated objects through a movement practice developed in conjunction with a dancer-couple, David Rafael Botana and Bradley Teal Ellis. For this exhibit, VanDyke began with threads and trimmings made for the fashion and upholstery industries. The artist forms them into bundles in a manner that references a little-known construction by Jackson Pollock. In 1949, Pollock created a diminutive plaster-dipped wire maquette for a large-scale sculpture that he never completed. VanDyke’s photograph of a hand reaching into a model of the gallery exhibition recalls a historic photograph of Pollock, shown viewing his maquette within a model of his “ideal museum.” The coils of material also evoke viscera and, according to the artist, recall a cross-section diagram of the testicles that fascinated him as a child.
VanDyke soaks these bundles of thread and rope in paint, and tosses and arranges them upon canvases on the studio floor, where the dancers push against and roll over them. The dancers wear t-shirts and business shirts while engaged in this process. The fabric of this clothing receives paint in extraordinarily detailed marks, and it is these shirts that generated the majority of the works in the show. The shirts were cut into pieces in a shape that references a marble floor in the Parione district of Rome. Each piece is backed with linen fabric cut from his mother’s old business suits, bedding, and from family tablecloths, adding another layer of information that literally sits out of view “behind” the work. Finally, the resulting pieces are arranged into one composition and sewn back together as a series of paintings. The paintings demonstrate a powerful material mastery and articulation of gesture that was developed over a year of intensive studio experimentation with Ellis and Botana.
The shirt paintings are mounted on a wooden fence structure, patterned after a modernist architectural detail the artist photographed in Rome. The fence is arranged so that the viewer can enter a corridor behind the works and view the backsides of the paintings. This hanging of the works away from the wall also harkens back to Pollock’s ideal museum, where his abstractions would be mounted in the midst of the room, like screens. In the corridors behind the paintings, the viewer finds a series of small gelatin silver photographs.
These pictures are printed by hand, in the darkroom. The artist returned to this process because of its physicality and the way in which, in his words, “the analog process of picture making and its dependence upon timing and touch lines up with the physicality of making the paintings.”
Art historian and curator Allison Unruh has written of the installation that, “In a subversion of painterly hierarchy, VanDyke engages our vision upon both the front and back of the works. The installation, activated by a push and pull between visual plentitude and the interstices of a stark wooden fence, alternately revealing and concealing, echoes the dynamics of bodies engaged in mutual exchange and reciprocity.”
*The exhibition title is after the sonnet poem “Voyelles” (1883) by Arthur Rimbaud
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