Leon Golub @ Anthony Reynolds

Contemporary and Old Art Reviews

Leon Golub @ Anthony Reynolds

Postby CAP » Sun Oct 13, 2013 10:26 am

The artist died in 2004 but his work surprisingly continues to circulate, often in public galleries. I confess to being gradually won over, almost in spite of Donald Buy-Kuspit’s book. There was a big show in Spain a couple of years ago and undeniably the scale suits big venues. I think there was some in a Saatchi show as well at some point. For a guy always on the periphery, the attraction only seems to have strengthened. It’s a quiet trend though, I don’t see a lot of PR and pump in the journals. There just seems to be a curiously lingering interest...

So get on it people!

This show is basically four sections to his 70s work Mercenaries. Props to Reynolds. :)

The stuff looks timelier and weirder than I imagined or gleaned from reproductions. He was a weird cat – they say his own worst enemy when it came to dealers and the art world. There are You Tubes that show him as this grumpy little gnome type from back then. Earlier in the year I wrote about a colleague – Arnold Mesches and couldn’t resist a comparison with Golub. Both hardcore lefties – bless ‘em. Here I’m just dragging that paragraph out of the Mesches article as a passing salute >>>>>>

Golub’s work focuses on the figure and proceeds not from Socialist Realism but an elemental Expressionism, steeped in novel materials for facture and mythic identities, a common strand to painting in the fifties. By the late sixties he switches to subjects drawn from the Vietnam War. The work maintains a grand scale, although significantly, the canvases are un-stretched, quite apart from matters of practicality, their informal looseness is vital in contrasting with traditional grandeur. By 1976 the work refines his distinctive attenuated drawing to figures and facture using a variety of blades to scrape back paint in small, patient gestures, giving the work an abraded or distressed quality. Subject matter also shifts to scenes of mercenaries and torture. Figures are much larger than life-size, but rather than grant them a mock heroic sweep or confidence, the drawing actually stresses a delicacy or brittleness in outline, a clumsiness or naivety to pose and proportion, a decidedly flattened or detached approach to modelling. The effect, despite the scale, is strikingly un-monumental, chillingly precise yet stilted. The figures become scarcely credible projections, huge teetering visions of almost inhuman cruelty and degradation. Little in the way of background or setting is supplied. All is invested in pose and interaction of figures. The intensely worked surfaces heighten the sense of scruple and scrutiny, or a gruelling ordeal to resist humanising the figures and yet detail appearance. Apart from literal distress, Golub’s touch often peppers figures with white highlights irrespective of modelling, giving them a flickering, spectral presence. The effect is a curious denial of competence, a wilful obfuscation that alerts us to a terrible conflict in picturing such people.


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