Liliane Tomasko, We Sleep Where We Fall, 2019–20, acrylic and acrylic spray paint on linen, 82 1⁄4 × 76 1⁄8".

Liliane Tomasko, We Sleep Where We Fall, 2019–20, acrylic and acrylic spray paint on linen, 82 1⁄4 × 76 1⁄8".

Liliane Tomasko

Liliane Tomasko’s art is abstract and yet isn’t. In her exhibition “We Sleep Where We Fall,” the manner in which things attain presence in her paintings became even more forceful than in the past. Some viewers might not even have noticed the referential character of her pictures, and, compared to earlier pieces, much of Tomasko’s new work looks utterly nonrepresentational. Despite their considerable atmospheric compression, her paintings from the early 2000s are clearly legible as interiors or still lifes, showing pillows, sheets, blankets, apparel, and fabric stacked up in wardrobes. The empty bed, rumpled after a night of fitful sleep, a subject as commonplace as it is intimate, is a recurrent central interest. That hasn’t actually changed in the new works. In fact, Tomasko’s art for more than two decades has probed themes of sleep, dreaming, and the unconscious, casting sleep as a transported state of mind in which the self, its contours blurring, appears to lose sight of itself even as it is also in touch with itself on a deeper level. Tomasko seeks to manifest and comprehend this kind of near-impalpable reality in her paintings. To this end, she has developed a variety of visual idioms that have grown increasingly abstract and unconstrained. Many of her paintings are based on Polaroids of her own bed and so contain a private nucleus. Her pictures have always kept their distance, showing vacant scenes composed of shadows and folds, close-ups in hues out of Bonnard or Morandi, the framing variously inviting more and less abstract interpretations, the sleepers themselves conspicuously absent throughout. The exhibition’s title left no doubt that sleep and the trace remain the major axes structuring the artist’s gaze, while the works on view revealed that the artist has entered a new phase not only in her engagement with her theme, but also in representational painting—and has forged a novel conjunction of the two.

Most of the works, including the imposing one, dated 2019–20, from which the exhibition took its title, and three large paintings from the series “Hold on to Yourself,” 2020–, drastically attenuated those qualities that make things seem tangible while insistently tying the materiality of their subject matter to the chromatic texture of painting itself. Abstract landscapes composed of sheets and pillows—in the perspective of Tomasko’s art, the physical media, as it were, of sleep—now resolved into a complex wattlework of curving brushstrokes weaving together zones of clear contours and rhythmically staggered ribbons of paint with color areas of indeterminate depth or glimpses of inscrutable black. Several of the new pictures revel in a luminous palette—some more subtly, with spray-painted accents, as in Hold on to Yourself: 5/31/2020, others with expansive and vigorous contrasts, as in Strident Green, 2020, and a secret that wasn’t, 2019. Quieter paintings such as Hymn (January) and Dirty Linen., both 2019, which deliquesce into swirls and streaks of pale gray, are perhaps where Tomasko has achieved an especially compelling union between the look and feel of textile surfaces that are her subject, the genuine materiality of painting, and the theme of sleep as a kind of melting away of consciousness.

The technically intriguing Hymn (January) tests the threshold of disintegration: Warm yet somehow also cold pinks shimmer through the tightly arrayed horizontal bands of interwoven grays and blacks. The compositional disequilibrium of murky tones unevenly alternating with more pallid zones recalls clouds, while the gestural brushwork owes its density to a pulsing sinuousness. Tomasko’s painterly finesse is evident in the sparse shading lines in black spray paint enhancing this texture: Inconspicuous in themselves, they profoundly alter the beholder’s overall impression, providing an intensified plasticity. In Hymn (January), which may or may not depict layered fabrics, this effect stakes out a peculiar paradox: The painting renders a disembodied physicality that is ghostly and intangible, like a dream vision.

Translated from German by Gerrit Jackson.