Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Good People

James Taylor Bonds   Good Country People   48 x 48 in
James Taylor Bonds
Good Country People
Coup d’oeil, New Orleans

To Ken Capone, the director of Coup d’oeil (with whom I have had many conversations about art) I said, I don’t think I like these paintings...but I don’t think these paintings are trying to make me like them. For that I totally respect them.

The characters in these paintings are, well, off-putting. Some are pitiable, inspiring the urge to politely look away. Others are kind of scary. You want to look away but you don’t. These figures, often nude, sometimes clothed in sober neutrals do not look like good country people. In fact, even the country itself looks bereft of natural beauty. Take another route altogether if you can, but definitely don’t stop your car around here. 
James Taylor Bonds  The Felling   30 x 24 in
I don't know if any of these characters belong to Flannery O'Connor's short story Good Country People or even if the show is referring to this story, but they certainly share the author's sensibility and the looming air of malice in so many of her stories. 

Content aside,  most of these works are painted with a narrow palette. The couple that aren't seem like they might belong to an adjacent but different body of work. The breakdown of space is complicated, the figure/ground relationship somewhere between convincing and not convincing. The surface is reserved; only occasional brushmarks rise to a texture.

Believing a couple of the works were painted in oil, I thought maybe the artist used some low-quality oil paint. Then I learned that they were acrylic. This fact can account for flatness as well as the stiffer articulations of flesh and other textures. I have to admire what the artist accomplished in acrylic but I wonder if the attraction part of the attraction/repulsion response would be even stronger with optical complexity and luminosity of oil paint. And there are passages in the The Chosen (oil on canvas), in which the flesh gets really fleshy, not quite Lucian Freud fleshy, but fleshy.

This work is sort of haunted by art historical ghosts, though I find associations hard to pin down. The palette and composition sort of echo Thomas Hart Benton. The flavor of southern gothic reminded me of George Rodrigue’s pre-Blue Dog group portraits (which, in spite of myself, I find kind of interesting) Good Country People also reminded me of a Picasso painting. two actually, that I was recalling as one: Boy Leading a Horse and Family of Saltimbanques. Maybe it was the strangely posed figures, the rigid nudity, or the psychological heaviness. (By the way, I don’t really like Picasso’s paintings but you won't hear me argue that he was a genius.)

So while I cannot say I like these paintings this artist has my attention and respect. In the end I see something really important: the evidence of work, of hours and hours of labor and consideration, highly developed skills, and most significantly an artist pursuing his own strange vision on a scale that isn’t playing around.

One more point, not about the artwork but about the gallery, Coup d’oeil. On a local level, weird is okay but ugly is not. Not this kind of ugly. Not naked hillbilly ugly. In addition to acknowledging the artist’s chops and guts, I have to appreciate Ken Capone who owns a commercial (as in for-profit) gallery. He encourages artists to pursue their work as they feel compelled to even if (I imagine) profits might not follow. This work must be a hard sell for the kind of local art buyers who hang artwork in their dining rooms. One might not want to eat, sit, or sleep below a painting like The Chosen but Ken will show it anyway. And he deserves real props for that. 

(Some nice person should buy this painting and gift it to the Ogden.)

James Taylor Bonds   The Chosen   72 x 60 in

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