New York

Izhar Patkin

Holly Solomon Gallery

This show consisted of wax sculptures and “reverse paintings.” The wax sculptures are unexceptional, resembling perhaps the contents of an Auguste Rodin wax museum in which the air conditioning has gone down. The “reverse paintings,” however, are quite eye-catching.

Patkin has painted these from behind—that is, he has applied paint to one side of a screen, forcing it through the screen until a substantial texture has built up on the back, which becomes the front. The effect is not unlike those computerized tapestries that depict dogs playing cards, the Last Supper, or events in the lives of John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King.

Unfortunately the content is a bit like that too, except here the kitsch is calculated. Sometimes the results are almost the same, as in Anarchy, 1984, which depicts a monkey with a red fez, with what appears to be his organ-grinder. That’s fake naiveté. But there’s nothing naive about Southern Momento (The Disappearance), 1984, which depicts a black couple, drawn in pickaninny style, holding hands over cocktails on what appears to be a plantation-house terrace. It’s as meaningful as a cement sculpture of a black groom guarding a suburban front lawn. But at least we know that Patkin’s pickaninnies and Aunt Jemimas are fighting prejudice, not promoting it.

In Fable, 1984, we see a distended black child—resembling a famine victim, in lip rouge, with a Don King hairdo, squatting in front of a piglike white dog—against a decorative background of white ducks. Ifs a mean-spirited picture, apparently aimed at achieving a decorative naughtiness.

Patkin’s manifesto piece, entitled Suburban Baroque, 1983–84, shows a little girl attached to a backward-written tag labeling her as representing art. She is about to be struck by a speeding locomotive pulling a whole train of negatives: “sin, money grubbing, corruption, inferiority complexes, drink, linguistic stereotypes, prejudice, banality.” Standing in a position to save the little art girl from the big bad train, but doing nothing, is a man labeled “abstract art.” Nowhere in this backward-painted picture, unfortunately, is there a superman labeled “representational art.”

Patkin’s work is a sort of Day-Glo rococo, and it’s decorative as hell when its arch content doesn’t poke you in the mind’s eye. Some of the paintings here are nothing more than still lifes of vases of flowers and those are really striking. Pat-kin is a natural wild-man colorist, capable of making extraordinary pictures, but he wants to make statements instead. He just doesn’t know what to say.

Glenn O’Brien