In Tyler Hildebrand’s Paintings, Everyone Is Fighting for Their Life
Nashville-based artist Tyler Hildebrand makes big paintings of hulking figures engaged in altercation and lazing around—activities at opposite ends of the behavioral spectrum. In the daily lives of his characters, there is no state of being in between. Through canvases that combine the nuanced modeling of a gifted painter with the urgent outlines of a cartoonist, Hildebrand renders an acrid vision of our world, one overwhelmed by aggressive, unproductive behavior.
“Granny Whitey: new paintings, drawings & film,” now on view at David Lusk Gallery, presents 14 large-scale paintings propped up against two facing walls. They rest on platforms edged with a string of bare light bulbs. The center of the space is covered with a faded green shag carpet that looks like it dates back to the 1960s.
Hildebrand’s figures are presented in groups, pairs, and sometimes alone. Though set against mostly monochromatic backgrounds that lack specificity of time or place, certain details like bayonets, basketball jerseys, and collaged allusions to Waffle House and Tecate provide clues. We sense that we are seeing America, albeit an atemporal and devolved version.
In 5:30 a.m. (all works 2014) and Bowie Hildebrand depicts motley crews of cartoonish soldiers in the throes of full-on battle. Red splatters that mean blood and yellow bursts that mean bullets read clearly through the chaos of overlapping bodies. In both works, the central figure feels out of place. In the first, he is a contemporary figure, wearing a Michael Jordan jersey, caught in a sea of soldiers transported from the 1800s. In what looks like a cross between a western and film noir, the main character of Bowie wears cowboy boots while defending himself with a massive multi-barrelled gun. This mishmash of eras and antiheroes seems to suggest that everyone (basketball stars and infantrymen alike) is fighting for their life.
Other works detail smaller-scale street conflicts. In the movement-filled Swivel a huge shirtless man topples his opponent by smashing a bottle over his head. While the assailant is rendered with the solidity of perspective and shadow, his fallen foe is a mere white outline of a man. The stark difference in the girth of the two figures suggests unprovoked aggression, not a balanced fight. A line of text at the bottom of the painting reads “Keep your head on a swivel,” cementing the dark hypothesis.
Wasting Away Again and Sammy Boy depict men in different states of repose. While they look relaxed—nearly naked, watching tv, smoking cigarettes, and stroking cats—they emit an aura of loneliness. Slack expressions, black backgrounds, and empty speech bubbles all point to deep malcontent and melancholy. In Hildebrand’s world, there isn’t much space for companionship and contentment.