Andy Fabo

Garnet Press Gallery

“It gets harder and harder to throw things away,” Andy Fabo says, in a taped studio visit that accompanied his recent show. Fabo preserves the detritus of his stunningly cluttered work and living space—old grant applications, Tom of Finland drawings, wrapping paper, files inherited from a friend who died—not slavishly, but with an offhand respect for what it may become. Recent personal and political circumstances produce seismic shifts in these layers of accumulated junk. Old things suddenly abut new things with surprising appropriateness, or acquire meanings they did not have. AIDS has been the greatest of those seismic interruptions. In Fabo’s handling it infuses an old eroticism with a new urgency, a new activism with an older sense of intimate exploration. To Fabo, it seems, the past is neither a used-up archive nor inaccessible to the present. It is not a corpse but a compost heap, or a quake-prone field.

This rather messy installation, entitled DETRITUS, 1992–93, included drawings and mixed-media pieces, a number of small inscribed slates, and some “ziplock collages,” as well as the videotape (surrounded by junk culled from Fabo’s studio). On the walls Fabo inscribed in his calligraphic hand personal and dictionary etymologies of words like “erratic,” a word that refers not only to a geological formation but also to the serendipity with which connections are formed. DETRITUS susurrates with many voices—of regret, lust, ennui, anger, nostalgia, and sheer sensuality.

Toronto critics have noted that, despite his work’s lack of closure and reliance on appropriation, it cannot simply be classified as post-Modern. This is partly because his concern for crafts and draftsmanship is so evident. The cheap prefab chalkboards on which he etches small drawings are made of real slate. He renders the erotic male nude in an elegant, manneristic hand. Recurring motifs that seem to be borrowed from mass imagery are actually Fabo’s own, such as a feminine profile that could have been a ’50s product logo for tampons, or the series of decorative whorls that the artist says are assholes.

Fabo’s bittersweet erotic works twisted homophobic slurs to read sensuality into them, transforming terms of abjection into terms of endearment. On Japanese paper, three delicate watercolored droplets were captioned “jism.” Over a set of arrogantly heterosexual greeting card salutations, “Pour Votre Mariage (For your marriage), ”Bien venue Cher Bébé“ (Welcome dear baby), Fabo watercolored an opened condom, inscribed ”scumbag.“ The voices of tenderness were always tempered with ones of anger and grief. Clearly fear of yet another loss informed Fabo’s protective attitude toward his detritus. Fabo’s soft-core meditations on the male nude were utterly polemical, especially in light of the Canadian Supreme Court’s recent redefinition of obscenity, which could criminalize many of these explicit images. In this respect, Fabo’s emphasis on the ”hand of the artist“ was also a nose-thumbing at the judicial criterion of ”redeeming esthetic value."

Laura U. Marks