October 9, 2011

Nicola Tyson, Friedrich Petzel, NYC

Nicola Tyson, New paintings and sculptures exhibition, Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York, Through November 5, 2011

NICOLA TYSON exhibits a group of new large-scale paintings that depict two figures locked in a separate but tense relationship to one another. Each figure is rendered in the artist’s chromatically intense palette and commands its space within the canvas frame. The figures are both animated and permanently fixed by the painted surface – a trick that only paintings can readily perform. These figurative “characters” present strange physical amalgams and morphological complexities that describe an anarchic freedom rather than violence, genetic engineering or alienation. Bizarre yet strangely credible, these characters originate from fertile but exiled parts of what we might inadequately term the “subconscious” or “imagination” – some place in the complex space of the mind, beyond the reassuring confines of “reason.” The figures are filtered and translated into a kind of readable and familiar lexicon of gestures and appendages. These images are often a surprise to the artist herself. The result is playful, humorous, disturbing as well liberating.

Technically, the paintings evolve out of rapid sketches that are scaled up to the size of the canvas. Tyson’s taut color decisions and very visceral, yet “dry” paint application are key ingredients in establishing the final painting. Nicola Tyson sees herself as operating in relationship to British satirical tradition going back to the 18th century caricaturist James Gillray, who himself identified a national urge towards what he termed “Mock Sublime Mad Taste” – a pushing beyond satire into anarchic freedom, an impulse that was picked up at the end of the 19th century by the Belgium artist James Ensor.

A show of small sculptures at the adjacent gallery space introduces a new direction of investigation for Nicola Tyson’s work. Tyson overcomes the limitations of two-dimensional space as she pops her figures from the flat surface and engages with them in the round. The small delicate sculptures have the immediacy of a sketch, much like her Sketch Book Drawings (last exhibited in 2007 in the same space). Each piece is created rapidly in a fast drying modeling compound but they nevertheless possess a formal weight and complexity, and intuitive attention to space. The group includes one piece cast subsequently in bronze in complete contrast to the original incredibly lightweight modeling compound.

NICOLA TYSON’s work is in the collections of Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Philadelphia Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; The Corcoran Gallery of Art at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C; UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Tate Gallery, London. In 2010 she was nominated for the Royal Academy’s prestigious Charles Wollaston Award.