Los Angeles

Thomas Trosch

Ruth Bloom Gallery

Thomas Trosch is an amusing, playful painter whose work could easily be dismissed as idiotic, as the farthest thing possible from serious painting. Remember Philip Guston, whose audience said, “See ya Phil,” the minute a figure stepped onto his buttery abstractions and rerouted his career. Fans and practitioners of “pure painting” get hives if they see a recognizable form—or even worse, text. Reading words on this precious surface destroys the potential for a voyage to the bottom of the sublime. By contrast, Trosch kind of paints like a baby. The paintings look like they’ve had a tantrum. In this light he might be considered another so-called nonserious painter, a juvenile who produces some wonderful work; the corner he must sit in, dunce-capped, is already populated by some to-die-for masters.

The presence of these works isn’t transcendental or funereal or ultrasober thingness, but, rather, incredibly giddy. His subjects are the queerest female figures in strangely cluttered interiors. The paintings are large, single-frame cartoons with longish monologue bubbles about hosting parties, color ideas, and buying art at auctions. So the fact that these paintings will go from artist’s studio to gallery to collector’s wall is not a ghoulish scenario: it ensures that they will not be trapped into slavishly reinforcing the role of art as empty decoration. They will have an active life ridiculing the environments they inhabit. The texts within the speech bubbles are culled from Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Remarks on Color, 1950, and Dorothy Rodger’s hook on style and decorating.

Half the pieces are overly painted, as if Trosch couldn’t stop himself. They’re cakey and layered, as claustrophobic as James Ensor’s crowd scene in Christ’s Entry into Brussels, 1888. Others are raw, spare, airy, with streaks and blotches of abstraction, in some ways unfinished, as if Trosch had frozen in the face of something profoundly odd. The impetuousness of the paintings’ subject matter, the social hazards of the ladies, leaks into the artist’s way of working, making his methods seem ruled by whim. These kinds of purposeful imperfections give the paintings a notepad feel. Trosch also connects with Ensor in terms of color. Blaring reds, yellow, and blues, and all their blended friends dominate the field. Where Ensor piled up faces and bodies in a street scene of gloom and chaos, Trosch mixes purses, lamps, coffee tables, sculptures, and abstract paintings into his campy party pictures.

Whether they are over- or undercooked, Trosch’s paintings are discombobulated, insane, luscious, and cheerful. They contradict themselves in great ways. One painting will be nervy, self-conscious, stiff, blunt, comically uncertain, using long weakening brushstrokes to stand in for a floor-length dress, while another is loopy and lush, gushing with confidence. Trosch’s frog-eyed figures (the better to see art with, my dear) perform a curious reptilian puppet show while yammering about auctions: “Losing touch with real value you find yourself bidding not to buy the object on the block, but to win, or to keep that revolting man with the mustache from getting it.”

Benjamin Weissman