The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2023

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FEB 2023 Issue

Don Doe: I’ll Have What They’re Having

Don Doe, <em>Folk Dance</em>, 2020. Oil on canvas, 48 x 36 inches. Courtesy 490 Atlantic Gallery.
Don Doe, Folk Dance, 2020. Oil on canvas, 48 x 36 inches. Courtesy 490 Atlantic Gallery.

On View
490 Atlantic Gallery
I’ll Have What They’re Having
January 7–February 12, 2023
Brooklyn, NY

I’ll Have What They’re Having highlights Don Doe’s constructive/destructive visual devices that challenge viewers to juggle and decode multiple pictures and surfaces. Typically, Doe makes preparatory drawings from collage studies of found pornographic, pulp fiction, film noir, and Sears catalog images. The current exhibit yields oil paintings emphasizing the torn, beat-up, crumpled aspects of paper held together by wily pushpins, blue painter’s tape, and binder clips; and busy Neo-Baroque bronze sculptures of figures distorted through inconsistent scale with books or furniture fragments. Free to alternate between sculpture and painting or to abandon his sources altogether, I’ll Have What They’re Having darts between ecstasy, sarcasm, fear, and nostalgia. Intoxicated by his freedom, then later adrift in his abundance, this reviewer will pursue one line of evolution: his treatment of necks.

The painting Folk Dance (2020) presents turquoise, red, and gold catalogue images as trompe l’oeil/Cubist collage. At the top, Doe overlays an image of Alice Neel’s portrait of the New York philanthropist Stewart Mott with an amorous tangle of women’s legs and arms, which transforms into a siren wearing cranberry lipstick. Doe joins a gold knee to a rosy neck with a seam so subtle that it can be read as a back joining a head. This seam lets Folk Dance have it both ways: the head is neither completely severed nor joined; the body is neither one thing nor two things. And this bearded man staring us dead in the eye, exactly what is he doing? Is he having sex with a clump of woman parts? At the bottom, two views of respectable female legs in sensible shoes support these erotic shenanigans and reference Mott’s conservative father who was an original partner of General Motors and bankrolled his son’s independence.

Don Doe, <em>Library Researcher, </em>2022. Bronze, 16 x 11 x 6 inches. Courtesy 490 Atlantic Gallery.
Don Doe, Library Researcher, 2022. Bronze, 16 x 11 x 6 inches. Courtesy 490 Atlantic Gallery.

The bronze sculpture Library Researcher (2022) joins fleshy female heads to necks sprouting like tree branches from a partitioned “body” of legs, arms, feet, and a pendulous boob. Sourced from different bodies, every part has its own life, yet each contributes to the tangle of overt physical eroticism. This Cubist construct is balanced with or perhaps against intellect as represented by a cold tome held open by a cold foot. But it is the necks craning away from the body that compel attention. Their organic torque is monstrous because we know it's impossible, but their engorged muscularity makes the piece familiar. The viewer is confronted with a day in the life of conjoined twins dunked in the myths of Athena, Medusa, and Laocoön.

Bubbles (2020) assembles the outline of a figure from collaged images. A fashionable, confident woman wearing a black turtleneck and a white jacket with black lapels is placed where a head would be in a portrait. Her torso resembles a neck abruptly joined to a triangular image of two girls blowing bubbles. Foregoing soft transition, as in Folk Dancer, the Cubist break here contrasts red and blue, making a visual pun from a neckline above a wedge of cleavage. Do the girls represent two breasts whose frivolity is covered or revealed by manicured hands clasping the jacket’s lapels? Once again, Doe remains inconclusive: couture can be read as a tool for controlling the emotional and physical contours of women, yet the well dressed woman-as-head can also be a summation of feminine triumph. An emphatic rupture between figurative images in Bubbles indicates empowerment of women, and the violence of a severed head.

Don Doe, <em>Bubbles, </em>2020. Oil on canvas, 48 x 30 inches. Courtesy 490 Atlantic Gallery.
Don Doe, Bubbles, 2020. Oil on canvas, 48 x 30 inches. Courtesy 490 Atlantic Gallery.

Don Doe’s oeuvre bridges collage, trompe l’oeil detail and Cubist structure. “Feinting Spells,” Susan Tallman’s recent essay in The New York Review of Books, serves as a summary of the roots of his unique synthesis. Reviewing Cubism and the Trompe l’Oeil Tradition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she writes, “for more than half a century trompe l’oeil has been a touchstone” for artists such as Celmins, Ruscha, Richter, and Jasper Johns’s “invocations” of John F. Peto. “The duplicity of images,” Tallman asserts, “is something recent art has given a lot of thought to.… The adoption of collage marked the transition to ‘synthetic’ Cubism, which played with the manifold ways that the world might be glued back together, and it did so through more colorful and fanciful means.” Regarding trompe l’oeil, Tallman notes the works’ “enormous skill and effort, but their assembled doodads carry clues meant to be unraveled.” Working between collage, trompe l’oeil and Cubism now, Doe suggests slippery, ambiguous, noncommittal stories that are multidimensional compared to the polarities that, for instance, Ruscha explored between image and iconic type, or that Johns explored between objects and painted surfaces.

Necks as zones of transformation represent only one of Doe’s strategies that invent new pathways for the imagination and leverage the biased associations viewers are likely to have. His Cubist breaks freeze well-worn cinematic or literary narratives as serial, snapshot dramas, implying that names, characters, setting and action are interchangeable. His visual poetry bids viewers to skim and sip details in a pause that equates conclusion with myth.


Elizabeth Johnson

Elizabeth Johnson is an oil painter, art writer, and guest curator, based in Easton, Pennsylvania. Her landscape paintings fuse realism and abstraction by interlocking distorted photographic images and lush surfaces.


The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2023

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