Los Angeles

Nicola Tyson

Marc Foxx Gallery

A Walk in the Woods, 2006–2007, depicts a pair of colorful androgynous figures walking side by side through a grove of leafless trees. The minimal treatment of the background is reminiscent of Edvard Munch’s, but Tyson’s use of color is rather different from the Norwegian artist’s; the translucency of her oils often allows for underpainting to show through—here a layer of black beneath the sky’s bright blue. The figures in other works are less readily identifiable as male or female, or even as entirely human. In Dog, 2006–2007, for example, Tyson imagines a bald baby head attached to a brown canine body, resulting in an unsettling hybrid. Bouquet, 2007, on the other hand, approaches total abstraction: A form that looks rather like a fatty leg of lamb is adorned with several budlike shapes as it emerges from a bright orange ground underpinned by royal purple.

Tyson’s graphite-on-paper drawings, a selection of which were shown in an adjacent gallery, reflect a straightforward process that also underpins her paintings. There is something visceral and immediate about both bodies of work, as if they were born directly from her unconscious. Yet while the paintings have moments of lightness, the drawings—all the examples shown here were taken from sketchbooks completed between 2003 and 2006—recede into a rather darker realm arranged around mutated figures in shades of black and gray. In one, an armless girl stares down at her waving hand, which lies detached on the floor beside her. In others, human heads grow birdlike beaks, appendages spring from unlikely places, and feet replace hands.

In spite of her immersion in sometimes nightmarish phantasmagoria, Tyson manages—largely owing to her palette, which ensures that dark imagery is always tempered by bright tones—to communicate a certain joy. And her use of underpainting conveys a sense of impermanence, buried color pushing through to create an atmosphere of dreamlike mutability. Tyson’s vision is refreshingly open-ended, and she gives the impression of knowing her subjects so intimately that every brushstroke and color choice becomes a way to visualize and render less fearful a different aspect of the unconscious.

Amra Brooks