New York

Trevor Winkfield

Edward Thorp Gallery

Since the late ’60s, Trevor Winkfield has been gaining an intensely loyal following in certain quarters of the literary world. Among the many reasons for the artist attaining this cult status, consider the following. He founded and edited Juillard in 1968, one of the most exciting “small” magazines published in England in the late ’60s and early ’70s. After moving to the United States in the early ’70s, Winkfield translated Raymond Roussel’s Comment j’ai écrit certains de mes livres (How I wrote certain of my books, 1935). Roussel’s surrealist novels are the result of a technique of amassing concise phrases that could have two or more meanings, and then constructing a flexible narrative by linking them together. Consequently, his novels (which influenced André Breton and Marcel Duchamp, among others) are like fantastic halls of mirrors in which the most unlikely events unfold with a watchlike precision. Winkfield’s paintings can be seen as pictorial equivalents of Roussel’s writing: they are the result of a highly personal associative logic that synthesizes a wide range of fantastic images in a convincing manner. The rational and irrational become interchangeable and therefore disturbing; however, more importantly—and this is what his ardent fans recognize—Winkfield is an artist whose work stands on its own.

Try and imagine, if you can, the tight paintings of the early American Modernist Gerald Murphy as if done by someone who frequently travels through the magical realms of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In Winkfield’s work, illogical combinations and juxtapositions are raised to the level of logical, almost mathematical hypotheses. All this is done in bright acrylic colors on canvas. In style, the images are descendants of children’s-book illustrations of the ’20s and ’30s; they are boldly outlined and simplified.

In Waiting, 1985, the artist combines a stem-faced knight in coveralls and wooden shoes, the legs of a horse, dominoes, a ladder surmounted at either end by oversized false teeth, a long-handled axe on which is perched the statuelike head of a horse, and masks. The image of the knight, as well as the other, smaller images surrounding him, are deployed against a ground made up of interlocking, overlapping, and tilting planes. It’s as if these images were taken from various contexts, dissected, and then reassembled However, by the time the painting is finished, it is impossible to deduce where the images might have existed earlier. Such is the convincing force of Winkfield’s wildly associative logic.

In other paintings, the artist juxtaposes two or three figures against a planar ground. The figures are descendants of Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp and Samuel Beckett’s Estragon and Vladimir, and the realm in which they meet is wryly sinister and confusing. Winkfield is a magnificent comic artist, because he sees through our self-conscious attempts to hide our frailty and awkwardness, our bumbling gestures and inept responses. His figures have no avenues of escape, because the artist knows that even our protective disguises are only emblems of vanity A descendant of Cervantes’ knight, Winkfield’s is on an ill-fated quest, but he doesn’t remember what he’s looking for or why. What a fitting image for these times.

John Yau