New York

Patrick Faulhaber


The postcard-size oils on wood blocks that make up Patrick Faulhaber’s “Texas Paintings” seem to know their limits as images, but they still intrude into space, demanding attention. What I like about these works is their arrogant modesty: Physical objects inscribed with deceptively pretty scenes, they resonate with an odd intimacy because of their size, even as their “sculptural” character ironically gives them a sense of monumentality. All are “handy,” if hard to hold because of their bulk.

At first glance, these works look like American Scene pictures, neoregionalist images of small-town America. But unlike those of Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood, Faulhaber’s social spaces are completely lacking in human presence. They’re ghost towns, cheaply glamorous with street- and store lights, but nonetheless empty, as though they’d never been inhabited. Elvira’s Beauty Shop, 2001, is a Potemkin village of facades behind which there’s nothing but the great void of Texas, signaled by the oppressively black space of the night sky. Indeed, there’s an air of claustrophobia about all the scenes: Even in daylight, Faulhaber depicts an uptight, hollow world.

The doors of the beauty shop are shuttered against the world, presumably to deter thieves, none of whom are in sight. Other works—Sonny Bryan’s, 2000, or El Taquito Café, 2003—don’t exactly brim with life either. All is safely banal—but intimidatingly so, as though the picture were daring you to disturb the peace, even if that peace is the indifferent silence of the dead.

These paintings suggest that Faulhaber may not give a damn about the actual place but is instead obsessed with the interplay of light and shadow and the intricacies of color and how both to make his subject matter concrete and distort it. His works are reminiscent of early Richard Estes, who also made the formal best of estrangement. Faulhaber’s surfaces are highly polished—even glossily fetishized—suggesting not so much “finish fetish” as Old Master perfectionism. Technically proficient, his realism is oddly exaggerated to the point that it gives off an aura of unreality—confirming the artist’s interest in turning “low life” into “high art” rather than getting to the bottom of the local environment, whose indifference may be impenetrable.

Donald Kuspit