DAVID COHEN, Editor           
      July 2004

 

Stapled to the Soul: Jerry Jofen, Tomas Lanigan-Schmidt

Pavel Zoubok Gallery
533 W 23 Street
New York NY 10011
212 675 7490

May 19 to June 19, 2004

by JAMES KALM


Jerry Jofen Untitled #106 1965
further details to follow; images courtesy Pavel Zoubok Gallery, New York


Tomas Lanigan-Schmidt Adoptive Father of Another's Child 2004,
mixed media, 16 x 13 inches

Staple: a U-shaped metal bar or piece of wire with often bendable pointed ends for driving into and holding papers together, etc. Though having never met, both Jofen and Lanigan-Schmidt have artistic temperaments that seem "driven into paper," the implied action requiring a brusque force, focused and piercing. The irony of "holding together" is echoed in their two lives and shared artistic practices of combining disparate elements, to somehow make compositions that have the ability of lodging themselves into one's memory more effectively through their discordance than through their harmony.

Jerry Jofen, probably better known for his work in New York's underground film scene of the early sixties, was none the less a gifted collagist. The earliest works on display owe a debt to Abstract Expressionism but retain a structure grounded in the cubistic grid. In "Untitled #106," (1965) a small rugged study in black and white, a hard scrabbled pop influence appears. Though giving a tip of the hat to Kurt Schwitters, this work elicits authentic Pop rather than the affected version currently in mode. Jofen uses mod-style poka dots, line patterns, and blocks of waxy blacks from shopping bags, as well as a plastic cord, perhaps a bag handle, to staple together an elegant theme. I have to admire anyone who takes stationary supplies and either through boredom or necessity subverts them into materials for artistic production. For both Jofen and Lanigan-Schmidt the staple activates their designs with its pragmatic physicality and rhythmic structural presence. Klaus Kertess wrote in 1997 that "the glistening staples are physical embodiments of light", yet in "Untitled # 463," (1971) many of the staples have rusted and fallen off, leaving only oxidation stains behind. These stains seem to enhance the subtle tonalities of the reds and yellows and, in the foil, cobalt blue of Jofen's palette. Ironically over time the bonds of the soft papers remain, but the hard metal of the fasteners does not.

Tomas Lanigan-Schmidt's work confronts us with an intriguing knot of contradictions. In the late seventies he was seen as a "hot" eccentric; pundits tried variously to incorporate him into the "Pattern Decoration", "Bad Painting" and "Kitsch" movements. Thought not fitting into any convenient historical pigeon-hole, Lanigan-Schmidt and his glittering trove of garish Disco trash and tinsel influenced generations of emerging artists, giving them permission to transgress the limitations of traditional art materials. This impetus encouraged a development of a new sense of color and surface.

A partial list of the stuff used in the work includes: tin-foil, cellophane, disco tape, wrapping paper, candy wrappers, glitter, pipe cleaners, embossed foil doilies, velvet, puffy sparkle paper, Christmas decorations, stick on stars, ribbons of various colors and fabrics, reflector tape, reproductions of classic art works, and black and white snapshots (many of gregarious beach scenes). This may not sound like the most promising ingredients with which to begin weaving a profound expression, but there's an unusual, almost spiritual or alchemical transformation that happens in the hands of Lanigan-Schmidt as he begins to twist, stick, and staple the objects together. Silver foil is tinted with yellow marker to simulate gold. A tuft of red velvet takes on an orange cast when covered with yellow cellophane. Byzantine icons are evoked, metallic foils replace the gold and silver, plastic covered sections emulate the gloss and color depth of enamel. This is a Blakean postmodern spirituality that sees God in sparkling nuggets from Canal Street plastics stores.

Lanigan-Schmidt seems to deconstruct the traditional confines between picture and frame in a series of three abstract panels. The geometric forms echo and parody the framing rectangle, but with the glittering materiality encroaching on the composition, the precedence of accepted boundaries are blurred. Though Lanigan-Schmidt has adopted the hierarchical iconic compositions of medieval sacred art, clues to his optical sensuality and humor can be seen in the tiny dresses (complete with miniature wire hangers) and the Orientally inspired "lacquered" trays on display. This mix of the secular and the spiritual reveals Lanigan-Schmidt's refusal to be seen a merely a naïf, a pseudo religious funky monk, a cardinal of Kitsch. Rather, I believe he wishes to pursue a type of optical extravagance wherever it may be found. Art is not religion, thank God, though deep spiritual content may be found in the works of both Jofen and Lanigan-Schmidt. Their belief that they can see the "light" in the humble refuse of our culture, that they can reveal it to the rest of us speaks somehow to their faith in redemption.


James Kalm is a painter who lives and works in Brooklyn

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