On ViewKewenig Gallery
We Sleep Where We Fall
February 27 – April 17, 2021
How difficult it is to describe or understand the commonplace experience of falling asleep. If you try to focus intently on the passing moment when, with shut eyes, your mind falters as you lose consciousness, then almost inevitably you will keep yourself awake. To capture this experience of transition, you must let yourself go, pretend to forget the need to attend to what’s happening, fall asleep, and then later attempt to recollect. Equally difficult to articulate, also, are the experiences you have during sleep, for when you awaken, very quickly your memories of dreams fade away.
Liliane Tomasko’s new paintings, all made in 2019 and 2020, are about these liminal states. In the gallery announcement she says: “maybe during those hours spent in this almost unconscious state, something is illuminated that cannot be seen in the brightness of the day.” Her art aims to recover and represent these experiences. 21-some years ago Tomasko depicted fabrics on rumpled beds, domestic landscapes without the immediate presence of human figures. Then, more recently, she moved closer to her subjects—ordinary fabrics, bed sheets and linens, curtains and clothes—transforming them into designs that approach abstraction. Her art took us, as she said at that time, “into the darkness” and the world of bedtime dreaming. Now moving much closer to these subjects, Tomasko presents purely abstract images that are based upon the warp and woof of multicolored threads.
In the first room of the Kewenig Gallery we start with We Sleep Where We Fall (2019–20). In this work, moody expansive blacks and grays press into delicate touches of yellow, while broad brushstrokes of white circle around the center, bordered by lines of black and yellow. Then we get to Hold on to Yourself: 4/29/2020 (2020), a much smaller work in black and white. This drop-dead gorgeous picture, one that Franz Kline might envy, sets an odd, but compellingly ungainly black form on a white field. Then in a series of small works, by contrast, Tomasko favors intense colors. I especially admire Reptilian Weave 10/3/2020 (2020), in which a broad pink curve descends into dark reds at the bottom left edge of the image, and Reptilian Weave 11/29/2020 (2020), a composition anchored by high-pitched orange, flashier than Willem de Kooning’s fleshy colors. And in the large Strident Green (2020), I love the rhythm of wide, thrusting green and turquoise bands, which really are both strident and graceful, playing against turquoise, pink, and black stripes. Then if the big, square Hold on to Yourself: 5/31/2020 (2020), with its marvelous faint gray and faded color palette, feels like an image experienced when dreaming, with colors that threaten to fade into a white-out field, the tangle of aggressively woven solid black, blue, and violet passages in The Question (2019) are a wakeup call.
These are a notably varied group of works, in color as in scale. The palette of Tomasko’s earlier figurative paintings owed something to Édouard Vuillard’s, and her textiles to the fabrics lovingly depicted by Mary Cassatt. Now her snaking lines are distant relatives of the baroque-gestural brushstrokes of David Reed or Bernard Frize. It’s always been difficult finding ways to compose non-figurative art. Some abstract painters ground their pictures in urban structures, while others employ motifs from nature or purely geometric compositions. The path into pure abstraction that Tomasko has discovered is highly distinctive. We’ve moved from the artificial colors and subjects of her represented fabrics into a whole new world. By coming much closer to her earlier motifs she’s created a novel abstract visual reality.
When I started writing criticism, in the 1980s, almost all of the younger abstractionists were responding to an art world that was highly skeptical about the future of painting. After Pop Art, Minimalism, and Conceptual art, many people asked: how was painting even possible? That challenging question was difficult to answer, which meant that painters had to defend themselves. But now, a younger artist like Tomasko lives in an environment where her art has been liberated. Her deliriously happy paintings are made as if Jasper Johns, Donald Judd, and Cindy Sherman had never existed, as indeed for her they don’t. Near the start of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, when Marcel has difficulty falling asleep, his loving parents distract him with a magic lantern. In his marvelous insomniac reverie, he says that this proto-cinematic apparatus replaced “the opacity of the walls with impalpable iridescences, supernatural multicolored apparitions, where legends were depicted as in a wavering, momentary stained-glass window.”1 In the very different art-historical narrative of We Sleep Where We Fall, Tomasko takes us through her history of modernism, setting us to dream about the development of abstraction, and telling that story in an original body of art. But hers is a joyous story. What amazing creations for a plague year!
- Marcel Proust. Swann’s Way: In Search of Lost Time, Vol. 1, trans. Lydia Davis (New York: Penguin Books, 2003), 9.