New York

Kevin Larmon

Nature Morte

Kevin Larmon’s recent paintings demonstrate a more pronounced luminosity than did his earlier works. Larmon has removed the dark blanket of black tones that once served as a backdrop for his hovering, iconic fruit bowls. He has held on to the fruit bowls themselves, and uses them as strange signifiers of typical still lifes, complete with connotations of painting’s history. The highly stylized arrangement of a saucer dish balancing what looks like a pear and an apple has become a signature element of Larmon’s art. This fruit bowl floats almost arbitrarily on densely layered grounds covered with scrapes, smears, oil-paint buildup, and teasing excerpts of pornographic images. The simultaneous submergence and emergence of various marks and image referents gives the canvases new tension. The layered, congested grounds overwhelm the rigidly defined fruit bowl; it exists as an inert, flat mass that defies the newfound expressivity of these charged surfaces. Larmon seems to be trying to break new ground without breaking entirely from his past.

These works are hybrids, representing the artist’s equally strong concerns with still life and abstraction. One of his most aggressively constructed, tormented works is Curtain, 1987. Here two vertical lines are created from gathered folds of solidified canvas, set on opposite ends of the picture plane. The canvas itself has been overworked with continuous applications of paint and varnish. Buried within this mortified surface and set between the two vertical barriers are geometric configurations and the recognizable still-life motif. The latter object seems to have been excavated from the surface, rather than riding on top imperiously as it does in other paintings. Certain cracked, fragile areas of the surface reveal ambiguous extractions of pornographic images. The picture lends itself to metaphoric readings, and the inclusion of the pornographic imagery recalls the artistic practice of equating the human body with inanimate still-life objects.

The new claustrophobic quality of Larmon’s work is found in its most extreme form in Kake, 1988. The mark-making here is energetic and defiant. Sickly shades of green rise up from submerged layers of paint, congealing in bumps and bubbles that look like lesions, or sores. In the context of this visceral and mesmerizing invented environment, the fruit dish seems completely out of place, and its awkwardness heightens the work’s atmospheric tension.

The presentation of still-life paintings by Kevin Larmon as one of the final shows of this gallery’s six-year history is entirely fitting, for “still life” is the English translation of the gallery’s name. Larmon’s quiet, introverted canvases provide a perfect coda to a gallery known for its quiet austerity.

Jude Schwendenwien