Judith Linhares: Banshee Sunrise
April 29 – May 27, 2022
Few artists have had as much of an impact on representational painting as Judith Linhares. For the years between MarciaTucker’s “Bad” Painting (1978) at the New Museum and Linhares’s inclusion in Frieze by Anglim Gilbert Gallery in 2018, she was a painter well-known by other figurative painters and the generations of students she taught at the School of Visual Arts, but her gallery representation didn’t properly reflect her influence. Banshee Sunrise, her second solo exhibition with P.P.O.W., solidifies her painterly presence and influence, specifically the important connection she has been able to draw between the figure and Abstract Expressionism through a phenomenological turn within representational work since the late seventies and eighties.
Linhares blocks out space with thick oil paint, using big chip brushes, filberts, and flats to fearlessly address the materiality of the paint. The pictorial space is theatrical, like a stage and backdrop, and is obsessively sanded down and reworked to preserve dramatic senses of light and space. Linhares is chasing real plasticity, phenomenological and affective illusions of convex form. To develop this spatial drama, she commits to the structure of each painting through repeating bands of color, striped together; an influence from Southwestern textiles and weaving as much as any lineage of Modern American painting. Follow each band of color, and you’ll watch it break and curve around the form of the subject, creating a dimensional low relief made of pulsating plasticity and recesses. The Montserrat oranges and pale violets bend and wrap, producing an electric camouflage.
By seeing the work without color, you can clearly see how the striping of marks create subtle infra-spaces, streams of dark and light that vibrate like an analog color channel. The center of the zebra in Walk Against the Wind (2021) forms a vertical pinch of space, a ridge with falling, steep slopes that reveal a sensitivity to John McLaughlin and optical drama.
Linhares attempts to express something beyond the way things are perceived, even beyond how they feel, and ultimately towards the way they impress themselves upon us. It’s a subtle but important shift away from Expression to the certain phenomenological conditions of perception that the AbEx painters were concerned with, of activating the body with the eye. This is Linhares’s contribution to contemporary figurative painting: reminding us how a mark can make you elongate and stretch to follow it up the center of the canvas, make you bend with the gesture or feel its twist in your stomach or its tingling in your spine. Linhares’s lasting influence may be in bridging Modern Abstraction and representation by adapting phenomenology to figuration, folding and crimping the space of each painting into prismatic planes. Linhares does this by proceeding with a genealogy of early twentieth century work from artists like Emil Nolde, Oskar Kokoschka, and Franz Marc, artists that worked within the gaps between abstraction and representation, while accommodating their strategies with the conditions of painting after Willem de Kooning.
In this form of representation as an armature, subjects are archetypical. Linhares handles her subjects through layers of mediation, interested in painting surrogates of figures, flowers, and dogs by channeling them through the language of porcelain miniatures and textiles. Whether they are flaccid and rubbery or shimmering and gem-like, the bodies and surfaces take the best of haptic abstraction and return them to the figure and all of its coding, arresting them in palpable realities of the body. For Linhares, tropes of representational painting such as the figure, the still life, and recessive negative space provide limits and brackets, ways of containing the possibilities of subject matter, but also act as anti-patriarchal resistance. Linhares set the terms for what Dana Schutz would later mean when talking about painting the sneeze, painting what is invisible, but capturing the abject, physical explosion of it. Linhares saw these invisible experiences of womanhood and recognized the importance of staying with the body and the figure as it went in and out of style.
If there is a motif to Banshee Sunrise, the figures feel imposed upon with ideas of innocence and naivety and seem to convey that they feel restricted by it. The women and dogs feel flooded with ennui, often looking up and to the corner of the painting, appearing as if they recognize themselves as representations, as painted people and animals rather than real ones, and long for places elsewhere. This resistance against codification is what Linhares has learned firsthand: to be recognized for her influence, not just for her association with “bad painting,” but ultimately by making the invisible visible through her fearless engagement with the materiality of paint.