Critics’ Picks

Anonymous, Bikaner, 2002, mixed media on paper, 14 x 10".

Richard Hawkins, Sue Williams, “Tantra Song: Contemporary Paintings from Rajasthan”

This year thirty-nine mesmeric abstract paintings from Rajasthan in “Tantra Song” at the Santa Monica Museum reminded me of how two Los Angeles–based artists’ seemingly disparate works about desire and physical intimacy bear real similarity. Sue Williams and Richard Hawkins, who individually celebrated retrospectives in LA this year, continuously excavate visions of bodily interiority and the inner self’s relationship to externalized desires, as defined through conjunctions between consciousness and the corporeal.

Williams’s current exhibition at Regen Projects elucidates how her early paintings from 1990s, which borrow bawdy cartoon iconography including textual phrases about abject topics, have morphed into abstract, calligraphic line paintings that render intestines, anuses, and fleshy or phlegmatic explosions that, like the Visible Man toy model, expose our raw, awesome organs. Hawkins’s exhibition of drawings and sculptures at the Hammer Museum––aptly titled “Third Mind” after the Burroughs/Gysin “cut-ups” text––redefined notions of obsession, homoeroticism, and idol worship through his language of fanzine collage, kitsch horror, interior design decor, and Roman Classicism. To see Hawkins’s “Disembodied Zombie” series, 1997, next to his handmade dollhouse House of the Mad Professor, 2008, a miniature haunted Victorian mansion with paper dolls and eerie lanterns hidden throughout an ominous bordello, was to get a sense of his abiding interest in transgressing inside/outside and sacred/profane boundaries.

These artists were unified in my mind by the real gems, the tantric paintings consisting of spirals, arrows, inverted triangles, and ovals, which encapsulate Hawkins’s and Williams’s interior/exterior themes with cosmic, unembellished simplicity. Painted colorfully with tempera, watercolor, and gouache between 1985 and 2009, the paintings’ totemic, meditative shapes are distillations of Shiva and Shakti, male and female energy forces, so that curated together they are perceptual tests incarnating symbolic unions between the sexual, body/mind, and heaven/earth. All three exhibitions map that universal mystery, human essence, on carnal, cellular, and intellectual levels.

Trinie Dalton’s story collection Baby Geisha is forthcoming from Two Dollar Radio in January.