Los Angeles

Tom Knechtel

Rosamund Felsen Gallery

The world within Tom Knechtel’s drawings and paintings consists of two principle elements: animals and sex. Under that potent big top the material expands and divides in a carnival of raging extremes—psychogiddy riffs on fairy-tale and childrens’ book illustration; the flexibility and beauty of paint; the disruption of composition; and decoration frenzy. Knechtel’s pictures detail the extravagant inner-workings of the body, animal and human, to the point where the artist becomes a dandyish vivisectionist who presents a strong visual spiel about individuality, solitude, and teeming feelings of arousal.

In a drop-dead hilarious picture, The Satyr (all works 1991–92)—which could replace the American flag whenever the stars and stripes don’t feel like getting up in the morning—a muscley, hoofed satyr stands austerely on his hairy hind legs, in heroic three-quarter view as if posturing for the King and Queen. Complete with little horns, fair-sized ears, and bulging beer gut (the ultimate sex machine), his cock oozing a gooey postfuck drip, his face registers something between wordless euphoria and waiting in line at the DMV. In The Mole, an adorable ultraplump mole stretches its cute monster claws to the heavens in a dire attempt to catch a just-out-of-reach dragon fly. In another work, entitled Martin, a broad-shouldered, bare-chested super stud stands with fists on hips, his booted feet wide apart to accommodate his log legs. At the figure’s feet sits an alert Chihuahua.

If there is a standout feature in Knechtel’s vision it would have to be the penis, in all its possibilities, and with this artist they are infinite. All of his men and animals have giant, heavy, freeway-veined cocks, and with few exceptions they are depicted hard and ready for work or play, shown mid-blast, or nonchalantly oozing like an idiotic drooler. Michelangelo might’ve liked them small as a pinky, but not Knechtel. Throw out the line about it’s what you do with it that counts. It’s also way beyond how well it fits in your pants or in the basement: rather, Can we climb on it and build a house on Maine Street? In Lessons In The Theatre; Ejaculations, a river definitely runs through it (a miniature neighborhood painted inside the shaft, including a man fishing in a boat, a couple embracing, a deer and a moose in repose, and a castle with turrets). And when this aforementioned object of desire, piece of real estate, wonder of the world, spews its turbulent fluid a film projector on wheels rolls along the floor casting an image of the forms of two men wrestling. This, by the way, is less than a fifth of the contents of this jam-packed, seething picture.

Knechtel’s work is pushed to its limits, it knows no other way. Current explorations of desire are laughable in comparison to Knechtel’s giddy cannonballs of utterly wanton amusement. Knechtel has a fertile storyteller’s impulse to go on and on. With appealing confidence he allows meaning to fall where it may, exploring how imagination excites itself, gets thicker, more muscular, and out of control. He stages Sadean children’s theater, two-dimensional puppet shows. Knechtel’s technical skills are overwhelming, bordering on the worshipful. Every depicted thing is drawn and painted with the precision and expertise of a classically trained art monk whose sexual passage to heaven is under consideration: the mundane, concrete world has never been further away.

Benjamin Weissman