New York

Graham Gillmore

Kenny Schachter Contemporary

Graham Gillmore’s current work seems to come in two visually distinct types. First, there are those paintings made up of casually modeled words and phrases linked by an intestine-like labyrinth of thought bubbles; these red and blue lines elaborate the innuendo and potential that create each work’s particular sense of drama. In I will you won’t, You do I don’t (all works 2003), variations on the phrases “I won’t I will” and “you won’t you will” vie for our attention in a sort of distillation of erotic gamesmanship. By the time the viewer reaches the lower righthand corner of the work, the standoff has poignantly devolved into a messy pileup of humiliation and defeat, as the word LOST settles at the very bottom and AGAIN crawls up one side.

With this format, Gillmore is able to engage and critique a variety of sensual and societal circumstances. In Republican Club, a tangle of “cheers,” “tips,” “camp,” “clinics,” and “conventions”—words that could derive from a high school fight song or cheerleading-camp credo—extract a cold, curt essence from an inane lingo. A pissed-off quality to the handwriting means the works are all the more raw for their straightforwardness.

Works in Gillmore’s other style are sleeker and more refined, featuring large solids of bright color and a single Ruschalike phrase; these have a watery texture that makes them look almost spraypainted (they’re made by routing words into a wood surface, then pouring the paint on top). Here, Gillmore’s penchant for malapropisms (as in the lyric, sexually evocative Your damp wounds will be sorely mist) and rebuses (as in Boo Fucking Hoo, in which a phallic appendage dangling from the first o in “boo” penetrates the middle letter of “hoo” painted below) finds expression. We’re reminded of Baudelaire’s observation that in every erotic relationship one partner is always the surgeon and the other the patient (or, in his extension of the metaphor, torturer and victim). One recalls as well evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis’s assertion that sex developed as a result of certain primordial unicellular organisms’ failure to entirely devour one another. To define sex as abandoned cannibalism might be unpleasant, but it might also account for the human situation to which so much of Gillmore’s work seems to speak.

Gillmore’s is a unique painterly vernacular, equally streetwise and composed. He walks an emotional tightrope between heat and cold, and these paintings contain a sense of an ultimately ecstatic ambivalence. The monumental diptych I Don’t, with its human-size twin green rectangular monoliths—the letters N’T on the right negating the ur-romantic and -affirmative I DO on the left—embodies Gillmore’s overarching theme of lives spent navigating the antipodes: being and nothingness, the raw and the refined, acceptance and rejection, risk and restraint. One trusts this work because it seems to reflect lived, felt experience and to have settled on a stance of hard-edged sympathy or laconic remove that glances back to include us, its ironies in the last instance sincere.

Tom Breidenbach