Don Van Vliet

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

In his previous guise as the musician Captain Beefheart, Don Van Vliet always invoked the powers of ceremonial delirium. His interventions along the byways of three-chord rock ’n’ roll floated funky, insistent, atonal guitar clusters around sublunar garglings in a strange amalgam of Howling Wolf and Tex Ritter. (With titles like “Woe Is a Me Bop” and “Lick My Decals Off Baby,” the songs are raucous nonsense of a high order.) It doesn’t necessarily follow that the same person who made that music would make Van Vliet’s paintings, but the congruent urge to extrapolate magic from mess is there.

Van Vliet’s pictures epitomize what might be called everyday expressionism, a species of normative, free-style painting that permits images to obtrude capriciously among swoops of color, like clouds billowing into the shapes of circus animals. In this, their mannerisms bear an odd resemblance to those

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