Greg Weaver

Eric Makler Gallery

As a genre, “bad painting” received its first institutional validation when, in 1978, Marcia Tucker defined and installed it at The New Museum. That it remains pretty much a late ’70s footnote has as much to do with its ironic appellation as its punch-drunk parameters. Bad painting is, according to Tucker, “figurative work that defies, either deliberately or by virtue of disinterest, the classic canons of good taste, draftsmanship, acceptable source material, rendering, or illusionistic representation.” It sprang from a roughed-up Pop tradition and the giddy heritage of Expressionist painting. The genre’s vernacular swagger has not been without influence, much of which is still finding its way into the imagery and palette of the decorative mode. Certainly, artists associated with bad painting, such as Joan Brown or William Wegman, share an ironic posture with artists who have been plugged into the decorative mode, like Cynthia Carlson or Robert Kushner. Indeed, irony has emerged as an important leitmotif linking both genres.

Greg Weaver’s paintings adhere, almost didactically, to Tucker’s definition of bad painting. Yet the humor in his work is more slapstick than ironic. (Forced to save either Rip Taylor or Noel Coward from a burning building, I feel sure that Weaver would choose Taylor.) There is a heavy-handedness about Weaver’s visual decisions which makes them somewhat suspect, both as bad painting and good art.

In Big Muskie, the paint is, for Weaver, uncharacteristically flat and muddy. Dominating the large canvas is a sagging armload of a fish. Almost obscured by his catch is a fisherman whose face has been cropped just above a toothy cartoon of a smile. It’s a truly ugly painting—crudely drawn and, except for the startlingly pink fish, meanly painted. The snapshot framing focuses of the fish being thrust forward for documentation. There is only a rudimentary suggestion of depth (a band of surf between sky and shore). It does, however, embrace four out of Tucker’s five requirements for bad painting.

More typical of Weaver’s work are Duck Pond and Chicken Coop. They share rustic settings, a focus on birds, and a wonderfully juicy application of paint. Unlike Big Muskie (which is all foreground), they are held together by detailed, lusciously built-up backgrounds. These backgrounds are faux-naif exercises in composition (take-offs on the lessons taught by John Nagy back in television’s Bronze Age). With rolling hills in the background and zany fowl in the foreground, Weaver makes no attempt to create a convincing middle-ground; activity is either directly in front of the scrim or on it. The perspective is disarming and the hedonistic indulgence in color is bracing. Duck Pond and Chicken Coop may not be intelligent paintings, but they’re definitely smarter than Big Huskie.

Weaver’s magnum opus is Herd of Cows, thirty paintings (22 by 30 inches each) arranged in grid. Each cow has a full-frontal head tacked on a simply-profiled (two legs per cow) body. It’s a shape that Weaver has reduced to pictographic spareness and has dappled with steak-shaped spots. The background is no more than a gestural extension of the cow. What differentiates one cow from its neighbor is color and density of paint. Some look ferocious with metallic acrylics piling up in low relief; others are as sweet and flat as cardboard Easter bunnies. The seeming spontaneity of the painting suggests that the series provoked a kind of gestural mnemonics. Each painting appears an expressionist outgrowth of its predecessor. The Herd achieves a cumulative power through the repetition of a simple iconic image, a repetition which also calls attention to the merits of the individual paintings. It combines elements of decorative (the arrangement of a repeat design) and bad (it adheres to all five of Tucker’s tenets) painting. The series’ ingenuous subject matter and bravura execution make it an exemplary model of bad painting; it elevates Weaver’s hayseed excesses and makes them virtues.

Richard Flood