New York

Trevor Winkfield

Tibor De Nagy Gallery

Trevor Winkfield studiously depicts the glyphs of a loopy heraldry. His playfulness contrasts with a set of deeper, mythological concerns, such as the Tiresian transformation suggested by With a Thrust of the Pelvis, I Become Woman!, 1996, in which two figures that look like paper marionettes assembled from clippings of illustrated children’s adventure stories seem snared in a duel involving a pair of two-toned chopsticks. The lower character is using his left hand to grapple with a snake. The torso of the top figure is composed of an orange shield bearing a huge green gem, topped by a ruff of candy-striped pyramidal forms and fixed on the bottom to the axle of a wheel. Her head is adorned by more pyramids and some ornate sparrows, one of which serves as her eye. Winkfield’s characters are like playing-card royalty on a permanent spree in Gagasville, where they enact a private, highly stylized erotic ritual.

And this duel is only the centerpiece. Other elements include an interwoven pattern, like that on antique iron grillwork, of flowers; a mangled tree; and a strange ladder with heavy wooden rungs (some of which have rocks on them) that compress into blue and white pleats. To the left the shape of the rocks is echoed by what look like yellow chestnuts—one of them hovers before an open fire—but under close scrutiny also resemble scrotums. In exploring the evocative power of shapes, Winkfield constructs visual fables in which forms and colors tease the most intimate associations from one another. While there are a few Escher-like instances of two-dimensional dupery, Winkfield seems to want us to be in on his tricks. Most of the figures in the painting are outlined in black, and the flat, draftsmanlike quality of the acrylics enhances the precision with which even the most cryptic images are rendered, as if the artist were making sure we’d encounter these improbable visions clearly.

In Voyage I, 1995, an African mask, an airplane propeller, a smoking pipe, small cubes, interlocking, tangled ellipses, and odd vertical wands that resemble electrical insulators or futuristic aspergillums occupy a background of monochrome, rectilinear fields and strips of vivid taffy colors. These features serve in various geometric and chromatic combinations to elaborate a sense of the strange journey underway. On the left side of Voyage I a sphinxlike figure cobbled from various shapes strides across the canvas on four pairs of camel legs that look as though they belong on a kick line. The figure wears a headdress made of what looks to be spaghetti and stuffed bell peppers. The mane of this creature is implied by two identically shaped female busts, one orange and capped by a painter’s palette, the other yellow and crested with a butterfly wing and fish tails. Yet its head is a man’s, with his one visible eye indicated only by a black dot.

The artist recently looked at a drawing his mother had found that he had made at the age of four. “I was amazed at how little my style has changed,” Winkfield said. This explains something of the child-friendly, illustrative quality of his work, as well as its (sometimes naughty) optical punning. If its details can seem as sinister at times as they do wacky, the sense of menace recalls Lewis Carroll or Swift: there’s no cruelty, just corroboration of the fundamentally bizarre and incommunicable aspects of living, and the fact that these are mitigated, if at all, only by one's purely formal impulses toward clarity.

Tom Breidenbach