Tom Judd : Disruption
Jan 11 – Mar 3, 2018
Anchored by and alternating between imagery of recognizable political figureheads and volcanic landscapes, Philadelphia artist Tom Judd’s visual expression actively pursues the nature of transition. Through painterly abstraction and collagist means, Judd’s immediate mark and hand-built surfaces reveal his deeply poetic and mystery-laden investigations of a shared American history as linked to the present day. The current exhibition draws from four ongoing series by the artist; “Manifest Destiny,” “Assemblages,” “Under the Volcano” and “The Myth of the Frontier,” as each individual work finds its connection through familiar or reimagined narratives. Stenciled faux wall-paper patterns in tandem with the real or found objects staged, are all carried by the vehicle of paint as the artist brushes or drips his medium in both thick and thin washes, either layered or removed. Judd states, “I think in paint. I paint quickly so as to catch something unexplainable and surprising. I love the mystery of painting.” Each element of color, drawn mark, or found material is positioned to reveal a little more of the story that Judd invites each viewer to explore. The artist further mines a multitude of sources which inspire and receive his mark; including discarded and forgotten family photographs, old tabloids, maps, blueprints and odd objects of interest. He positions them as abstract elements in each work which take on re-contextualized meanings – such as a textbook George Washington becomes visually overgrown by painted botanical specimens and framed with colorful advertising yardsticks, or screen siren Vivienne Leigh finds herself positioned as an open-armed Jesus, alongside other frontier myth-busting portraits including cross-dressed Western icons.
Judd’s playful and potent contradictions illuminate the prescribed historical narratives and notions of order and allow us to journey to a broader understanding of a shared humanity at its most fundamental. Judd further adds, “I am interested in the chance associations which suggest something contradictory and hopefully create more questions than answers. It is this combining of imagery that can trigger memories and thoughts, a kind of visual poetry.” Judd’s use of ambiguous ephemera and his often unexpected and muted palettes are meant to confront what it is like to be, as the artist states, “living in these times, looking back and coming from our history of treachery and deceit. And not that it’s bad, it’s kind of funny – ludicrous, actually. We can’t seem to be able to tell the truth about ourselves. And that is just being human.” In keeping, Judd’s Rushmore painting, prominently placed within the exhibition, embraces the working phase of the vision of Gutzon Borglum to create an outsized embodiment of American leaders at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial; a tribute to presidential wisdom, foresight and democratic ideals as a unifying American emblem. Between the visages of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt is one of the artist’s signature volcano paintings tiled On the Perimeter. In proximity to Rushmore, the characteristic snow-covered conical gives rise to plumes of smoke hinting at the molten drama beneath - a disturbance, perhaps a forecasting, as the volcano stands as symbol of an as-yet-unleashed potential for destruction awaiting its moment for over millennium. Considering the cataclysmic damage that an eruption of Nature’s own choosing might incur, the painting’s placement gives additional metaphoric weight to the artist’s parallel theme of the churning and potentially volatile nature of politics, as well.
Judd’s multi-part installation entitled Don’t Fence Me In, referring to the popular 1934 country song, poetically sets the tone for a timeless human drama – the desire for personal freedom versus the ongoing realities of cultural inequities. Along the patchwork wallpapered, deconstructed cabin wall, hangs a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. Positioned below, resting on a writer’s table, is a kitschy bust of President Kennedy, with its jaundice hue and modern style. From the staged portraits of an American president known to have freed the slaves in the 1860s, to a 1960s president keenly related to the civil rights movement, Judd furthers the narrative to include two additional elements on the desk - a seemingly tame yet inappropriate white-male biased book about a Native American female, and a typed draft of a story which tells the tale of a boy missing an important catch at a baseball game. Linked by themes of an inherent desire for greatness while acknowledging human failings, the symbolic elements feel both remote and personal, as the side of a snowy volcano can be viewed through a nearby window within the installation. Judd states, “Disruption causes communities to wake up and reminds them to think differently – to look at our connectedness. The certainty of our lives is brought into focus, delineated by a chance or unexpected event.” With a keen intellect and a strong sense of the moment, Tom Judd’s works offer a kind of meaningful disruption to the viewer as well. His clear-eyed consideration of the many roads that must be traveled in order to arrive at the present day, serve to reaffirm the fragility and the aspirational within the human condition. Judd sums up by stating, “Disruption is a reorganization – a means to clear a completely different path."
Tom Judd studied at the University of Utah and has a B.F.A. from Philadelphia College of Art. His work is in the permanent collections of Philadelphia Museum of Art, Birmingham Museum of Art, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and numerous corporate collections both in the US and abroad. He has shown at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania Academy of Art, Salt Lake Art Center UT, Cornell Museum of Fine Art, FL, La Salle University Art Museum and others. Judd has received a prestigious Pollack Krasner Grant and has had fellowships at Tandem Press, Millay Colony, NY and Macdowell Colony, NH. His paintings, chalk-drawing installations and site-specific works have been shown in a wide variety of sites including university galleries and art centers across the US.