On ViewGreene Naftali
January 19 – March 3, 2018
Spearheading Richard Hawkins’s fifth exhibition at Greene Naftali is a painting titled, And then come the dawn (2017), which took Hawkins over a decade to complete. In an email conversation, the L.A.-based artist expressed his restored interest in this painting after a decade with the current socio-political climate. Hawkins re-imagined the story of a worn-out, gay, white liberal at a hotel room in Thailand where the protagonist “takes his indulgence a step too irrevocably far.” Made with an impossibly bright color palette, it pays homage to post-impressionist paintings of interiors by Van Gogh and Matisse; however, he subverts the genre with the suggestive context—rather than portraits of domestic interiors, these are scenes from the sex trade in Thailand hotel rooms. Considering the genre’s colonial roots, this may read as a riff on the colonial gaze; however, the artist isn’t merely interested in art historical criticism. Instead, this correlation resonates with Hawkins’s satirical approach to exhausted white liberalism that claims entitlement for certain liberties.
The painting is a typical Eurocentric view of Thailand as an uncharted exotic paradise where legal and moral restraints are easily subverted until one sees the accompanying black and white works on paper (all from 2007). They fill in the backstory with sketches of a bathroom where a pair of feet sneak out of the shower. The vibe here aligns with that of the painting’s, suggesting that we are pursuing the same character or similar hotel room, possibly during the same trip. The figure sprawls on the floor with one sock hanging like a droopy penis from the tip of his toe. Death is hinted, yet never clarified. The drawings portray an atmosphere of shame, deviancy, and desire, of awkward first encounters, anonymous intercourse, and prurient sexual fantasy. Similarly, the drawings lack a sexual partner, complicating the content of the man’s potential engagements. Either autoerotic or partnered, sexuality echoes with void and debilitation in the wake of failing white liberalism. Therefore, sex is portrayed here as a series of comical endeavors and social experiments, where carnal emancipation is the result of a compromised colonial phallus. Back in the painting, the overweight tourist, positioned in the center of the canvas, wears nothing but a fanny pack and sandals; his penis protrudes from under his robust belly. Below him lies a chair kicked over by one of his impossibly large-toed feet. When combined with the medicine bottles and a roll of toilet paper scattered atop the drawer by the bed, one senses this is the scene of a post-suicide moment, which returns to the issue of depleted liberalism under a humorous tone and whimsical esthetic.
Expanding Horizon and Not Interested (two acrylic-on- paper drawings from 2007) feature illustrations of two young frail boys—twinks in gay sub-culture—sitting amid a backdrop of colorful walls painted in stripes, gazing towards an undetermined corner. In one of the drawings, an elderly man greets the boys with wide open arms. The potential sexual exchange between the older man and young boys is evident from the youths’ exposed bodies and the man’s predatory expression and posture. Matisse’s The Piano Lesson (1916) or Van Gogh’s Bedroom in Arles (1888) had explored refuge in depictions of secluded interiors, where architectural details conveyed inhabitants’ emotional state. In Hawkins’s satirical take, the room signifies a territory for deviancy and bodily rituals experimented behind closed doors in remote destinations. His color composition and attention to structural detail echo with the Modernists; however, he complicates the serenity of his setting not only with eerily positioned objects, but also with latent social commentary. The central figure—a Western tourist at an exotic destination where morals undo—becomes the victim of his carnal pursuits within an unabashedly tragicomic visual narrative. His desire for indulgence and salvation goes awry.