New York

Kenneth Polinskie

Fischbach Gallery

Kenneth Polinskie’s work here, which consisted of watercolors and paper pulp pieces, makes new use of the still-life tradition. Rather than embrace acceptable realist styles such as photographic exactitude or gestural response, Polinskie transports the still-life convention of observing and recording into a witty and imaginative erotic realm. He accomplishes this by his integration of objects (rough-textured vases and faceted ashtrays), vegetation (blooming calla lilies and bananas), a lurid palette (magentas and blues), and an allover patterning (rows of kidney-bean-shaped coffee tables on a white ground).

Typically, a composition consists of a patterned ground (leopard skin, say) that either parallels or tilts slightly away from the picture plane. Against this ground is placed one or more objects, such as a phallic section of a watermelon or an oddly shaped vase. The picture surfaces evoke equivalents for skin, and the figure-ground relationship is represented as phallic object against skin. The objects and surface suggest both a domestic still life and a stage setting in which the figural presences play dramatic roles. The compositions suggest a dialogue filled with humorous asides, symbols, and the private language of lovers.

Polinskie’s work evolves out of the modern erotic tradition. It shares an emotional affinity with the delicate watercolors of sailors by Charles Demuth, the iconic flower paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe, and the voluptuous depictions of young men at the beach by Paul Cadmus. However, in contrast to O’Keeffe’s iconic presentation of the self, or Demuth’s and Cadmus’ use of realism’s anecdotal aspects to naturalize sexual attitudes, Polinskie’s watercolors reveal the act of reading to be a heavily inscribed social phenomenon. They do so by presenting objects that are kitschy, ironic, and symbolic. Humor is used as a sign of self-reflexiveness.

By reconnecting the site (both the objects and the surface) with the language of signs, Polinskie reminds the viewer that seeing is both sexual and engaging; one imagines as well as registers. The combination of highly detailed surfaces and objects within a patterned, shallow spatiality defines the act of reading as an interpretative response. Polinskie achieves something many of his realist contemporaries have shied away from: the celebration of sexuality and the self as an act of recognition.

John Yau