Los Angeles

Lynn Foulkes

Laguna Art Museum

The recent retrospective exhibition of Llyn Foulkes’ work, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” demonstrated that though the form and subject matter of his work have varied widely over the years—from semiabstract assemblages, to the rocky landscapes of the ’60s, to the bloodied self-portraits of the ’70s, to the satirical paintings of the last two decades—the complexity and passion of Foulkes’ vision has scarcely faltered. Occupying a territory somewhere between the horrific, hallucinatory world of Philip K. Dick and the cartoons of Walt Disney, his art constantly grapples with what has infected the social fabric of America, drawing the viewer with humour into the unnerving psychosocial terrain his work maps.

In The Last Outpost, 1983, the Lone Ranger bites the dust on the verandah of a log cabin or saloon somewhere out in the desert. He is dying of laughter at the feet of a Mickey Mouse homesteader in prairie drag. In the distance, a lone gunman—a boy no more than ten years old—enjoys the spectacle. The painting recalls both Hollywood’s early dreamscapes and our own childhood fantasies, but Foulkes’ representations of innocence are far from cozy. The Last Outpost is an image of loss—the loss of an earlier, simpler collective unconscious. The conjunction of the ghost town and the phantasmagoria of Hollywood is sinister, exposing the weak points of our cultural mythologies.

In another painting from 1991, his anger is directed at the Los Angeles city developers. The Rape of the Angels depicts a bureaucrat with a fistful of dollars instead of a face surveying a map of the city. On his shoulder sits a miniaturized Mickey Mouse who, like an avenging angel or a righteous devil, whispers into the developer’s ear “sue city sue.” The artist’s sad-eyed self-portrait looms in the darkness to the right of the painting with a comic-book thought bubble expressing his disgust and contempt for the action of the city guardians: “The bastards,” it reads. In The Rape of the Angels, Foulkes is intimating that the corporate takeover of Los Angeles, devoid of imagination, is now almost complete. The painting delivers what his paintings always deliver: an interior landscape populated with jaded Hollywood icons and faded American dreams through which runs an obsessional current. Here nostalgia takes the form of passion, a passion for those richly surrealist and classical buildings that once stood side by side in a city where fact and fiction, glamour and grim reality merged in a fantastic dreamscape.

This is not an exhibition for the fainthearted; Foulkes’ individual vision of the world is angry, intense, and passionate. But as Oscar Wilde so vehemently expressed, “art is individualism and individualism is a disturbing and disintegrating force.”

Rosetta Brooks