Wayne Gonzales

I can still remember Wayne Gonzales’s series of paintings constructed around the figure of Lee Harvey Oswald and the Kennedy assassination, shown in 2001 at the Paula Cooper Gallery and at the Consortium of Dijon. Of particular note was the juxtaposition of paintings of an acid pink and yellow ad for Jack Ruby’s nightclub, a stripper who looked like Marilyn Monroe, and a ballistic diagram from the Warren Commission report (Magic Bullet Theory, 2001)—so many postphotographic indices of a history already constituted yet still in fragments. Far from the tidy narratives of Oliver Stone in his film JFK or James Ellroy in his American Tabloid, the “narrative” constituted by these paintings was shot through by doubt, fragmented by the sequencing of the canvases and rendered illegible and almost abstract by webs of pixels and dots à la Sigmar Polke: historical painting, then, not as truth but as question.

Gonzales is still taking on both historical events and their representations by using archival documents whose authenticity is all the more doubtful for having been retouched on the computer before being dealt with in paint. But now he aims to envelop us in a cloudy vision of the present—a vision magnified by imagination, paranoia, and the dull thud of war. An isolated canvas: a blurred view of the White House. Distributed throughout the gallery space: three weightless and spectral visions of the Pentagon. The paintings emanate a nonspecific sense of impending danger, as if a distant siren were approaching. The repetition of motifs from one canvas to another forms a kind of loop that creates suspense. Rather than reusing the elements of an event that has already taken place, Gonzales distills something else here, a suspended time, a volatile element ready to burst into flame, an imminent event, something like the spirit of history. In an e-mail the artist explained, “I wanted to explore some ideas and feelings I have about the political climate created by the Bush Administration; the war in Iraq; patriotism; political power, credibility and responsibility; being an American and an Artist.”

This “age of suspicion,” as Nathalie Sarraute called it, and the political dimension of its fictions, are brought to a point in the digital morphing that allowed Gonzales to blend his face with photos of Oswald in Self-Portrait as a Young Marine and Self-Portrait as a Lone Nut, both 2004—paintings that have the ambiguity of Richter and the irony of Polke: a reversible and irreconcilable portrait of the artist as a patriot and a dissident. Political tension is reflected in pictorial tension. Gonzales’s canvases are divided between abstraction and figuration, between the spectrum of dark grays that occupies the first room and the dawnlike light grays of the second room, between legibility and obscurity depending on whether the gaze drifts into the distance or approaches the surface. The layering of dots that Gonzales applies with vinyl stencils onto his motifs is another technique of doubt: an obstacle tovision that at the same time stimulates the imagination. In this pictorial in-between state the blurred and fragmented narratives take form in the mind of the viewer. In the back of the gallery, the radiant image of a cheering crowd rounds out the show—but points toward what happy ending?

Jean-Max Colard

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.