New York

Llyn Foulkes

Willard Gallery

It seems that California painter Llyn Folks planned his show here to coincide with the Max Ernst retrospective. Not only are the Surrealist’s decalcomania paintings and figure in a landscape collages Foulkes’s main models, but the antique photographs and wooden frames he uses in his paintings evoke the ’20s when Ernst made his works. Foulkes has quite successfully flattened his oeuvre through this insistent nostalgia. If his paintings wish they’d been there and then, it’s hard for them to be here and now. I guess the show’s a kind of hommage à but this isn’t Paris.

In his portraits, Foulkes paints the background over parts of the photographic image so that people’s skulls take on odd shapes. This overpainting brings both heads and landscape forms closer to a primary biomorphic shape that’s not as specific as a finger or a penis. Maybe it’s a tonsil. Foulkes’s faces are all covered by another image or a geometrical figure. In many paintings, red paint like blood drips from behind these obscuring devices to reinforce the horrific in a more distanced and sedate way than Francis Bacon’s or Hans Bellmer’s.

Foulkes’s earlier paintings are based on postcard vistas of landscapes which might be rocks or elbows, mountains or knees. Several works in this show formally enlarge the postcard idea beyond a simple metaphor for a portable easel painting. Just as one would flip a postcard back and forth between flatly colored image on the obverse side and two-part area for message and address on the verso, so Foulkes’s paintings are made to infer both back and front. This is done mainly by bunching several wooden frames around the image, some right side out and some with the back facing out. Occasionally a striped band motif or a scrawled message finds its way onto the image side of the picture. My favorite was a landscape in which a dumpy little guy with a paper bag over his head stands on a rock—there’s a certain charm in this conception of embarrassed exposure.

Alan Moore