Blair Thurman is arguably one of the hottest contemporary artists today. He currently has a solo show at Gasser and Grunert gallery in NYC's Lower East Side, and a group show called "The Show is Over" at Gagosian Gallery in London.
This Salon wlll be led by Tanja Grunert, who is the director of the Gasser and Grunert Gallery. Tanja will present and discuss Blair Thurman's latest body of works at the gallery.
Thurman has exhibited widely in Europe and is known for his large neon-installations and paintings on shaped canvases and wood. More on his website.
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About the artist
Text by Hugo Pernet
We often talk about what a work adds to reality, but never about what it takes away from it. Before being charged with different meanings, a work also discharges reality. A work is firstly negative. Or let’s say it drills a hole in reality. This hole is then filled with all sorts of meaning: a work of art begins by diminishing the reality around it, then increases its potential.
The great thing about Blair Thurman’s works is that they cannot be misinterpreted. They are sufficiently clear, even in how they are produced: thickly coated, clumsily painted canvases, roughly stapled to their stretchers – imbued with a sort of unifying treatment and tranquillity. The technique is never hidden, always apparent. You cannot go wrong with Blair Thurman: you just need to describe his works (i.e. look at them) to understand them. His work takes various forms – often paintings, or at least the traditional elements of a painting (stretcher, canvas). Some are hung up in the usual fashion; others are propped up against the wall, or displayed horizontally on trestles. Sometimes “tubes” of hand-sewn canvas are attached to the wall, and rolled into a spiral on the floor.
The other material that recurs in his work is neon: he produces motifs from sheets of model car stickers, fragile lattice-work evoking worksite barriers, or repro- duces the design of a ring he gave his wife...
The first thing that strikes us about his approach is the power these various elements acquire when associ- ated: the neon lights intensify or camouflage the colours of the painted surfaces, the paintings absorb or reflect the light, the space becomes saturated, and the percep- tion of each part is indiscriminately altered by our per- ception of the whole.
Sometimes the luminous tubes merely highlight ele- ments painted on a panel. There is something totemic about their presence, as in Honey Badgers: a wooden screen covered in Amerindian motifs highlighted in coloured neon. This association offers an analogy (previously explored by Robert Indiana) between the totemism of native Americans and the repressed totemism of the consumer society (embodied by the identifying/protective power of brands and their logos). But such work also seems to evoke the “tourist- trap” side to neon and Amerindian iconography.
Then, we cannot fail to notice that his paintings are full of holes: hollowed-out sections of racing cir- cuits; stylized camera diaphragms; a reverse allusion to NDE 1 or cosmic phenomena (There’s a Tunnel at the End of the Light). In the early 1960s, Frank Stella turned each of his paintings into a closed circuit where ‘what you see iswhat you see.’ But there are some things you can’t see.
A painting, however literal, remains an illusion – a decor hiding what lies behind: the stretcher.
Usually the stretcher serves to stretch the canvas that hides it. But, in many of Thurman’s works, the can- vas directly covers the structure of the stretcher, reveal- ing the “mechanics” of the object, and the voids which are usually hidden. Among these “paintings with holes”, those featuring a vortex are especially interesting. The pictorial field, deprived of its centre, turns inwards and changes direction as its subject spirals inwards towards the hole, creating a sort of vanishing point.
Unlike the centre of a traditional painting, situated in illusionist fashion within the painted area, the centre of these vortices is placed in the physical reality of the exhibition hall. The painting thus asserts its function as a passage from one reality to another, without denying its tangible existence as an object in its own right.
In Blair Thurman’s work, painting is a moment of looking. It begins in real space, then returns us to it. The subject of his paintings is the movement of our gaze over the painted surface; the circuit is the embodiment of this movement.
Through this emblematic embodiment – a circuit that is literally a race-track – Thurman evokes the childhood world of scale models and electric toys. Hispaintings, unlike Stella’s, are open circuits where games are played out, with ample scope left for interpretation. The most successful games have their own history, legends and modernity. The rules may stay the same, but the game itself can be reinvented.
It’s the same with the cinema (and maybe art): in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, the final maelstrom scene cleverly revisits the idea of a naval bat- tle. Thurman’s work resembles the maelstrom: it intro- duces elements from abstract painting (shaped canvas, use of monochrome) and Pop Art (signs and lettering; fluorescent, shiny, metallic colours), along with a vari- ety of personal or humorous allusions.
Yet, despite the trivial references he integrates into his approach, Thurman may indeed be considered an abstract artist. Ever since abstract art became accepted, it has been impossible to define it as strictly non-figu- rative. To us, a simple dot or geometric form are more realistic than the finest paintings by Richard Estes. So there is nothing strange about describing abstraction as a genre – defined purely by its history and terminology. The genre corresponds to the rules of the game; but the game only takes on its full meaning when the rules disappear.
Soccer is a fabulous game once the rules have been absorbed and the footballers just concentrate on play- ing; then we can see things we have never seen before.2 Similarly, people who don’t know the rules of a sport can hardly appreciate it: they cannot forget the rules so as to see only the game.
There are a few rules that you need to know to appreciate Blair Thurman’s work – even if it’s possible to enjoy the French Open because of the color of the clay or the sound of the ball.
These rules are, however, simple enough to be rap- idly absorbed; Thurman clearly positions himself in the recent mainstream of American art. His work resembles Pop Art, yet refers more to the fate of abstract art and to issues connected with abstraction. He belongs to this tradition, and forcefully renews it.
That is because he plays the Great Game of art – not the little game with all its rules. In his best works and finest exhibitions, the scope and inventiveness of Thurman’s art verge on the sublime.