For the New York-based artist Christopher Tanner—also a set designer, actor and downtown cabaret singer in drag—that old modernist dictum “less is more” has rarely carried much weight. Rather, his motivating mantra has long been “more is more.” Over the years, Tanner’s esthetic outlook and art-making efforts have focused on the value of meticulous craftsmanship, the meaning and nature of glamour, and an unabashed celebration of beauty. More recently, the artist has said, he’s become interested in “succulence, abundance, bounty and the life force that flows through nature and the human body.”
Best known for spectacular, mixed- medium “paintings”—luxurious, canvas-mounted assemblages of such humble materials as big shiny sequins, colored sand, shells, stones and fabric scraps—Tanner is also a capable draftsman who routinely draws from live models, and sinuous lines derived from his drawings often make their way into his compositions in other mediums. Lately, Tanner has taken a break from his brightly colored, thickly encrusted paintings, experimenting instead with more pointedly three-dimensional, wall-mounted and freestanding sculptures.
For some of these variously shaped new pieces (all 2009), presented in “The Queen of Hell & the Horn of Plenty,” his latest solo show, he first made wooden armatures, which he then built up in random patterns using such materials as sand, coins, flat slices of colored stones, chunks of crystals, tiny mirrors and bullets. Among these strange creations:
The Queen of Hell, with a vixen-red palette, and Unplanned Visitor, a stone-and-mirror-studded bundle enveloped by spiky orange tentacles. For Timothy’s Bounty and Mystic Wand, Tanner used pieces of driftwood instead of his usual constructed supports. All of these new works feature stuffed, colored-leather protrusions that emerge like enormous veins from the irregular surfaces, hugging them tightly. Recalling human arms, breasts or thighs, these sleek, muscular works are both voluptuous and otherworldly.
Tanner also showed a group of collages on sheets of gridded vintage wallpaper samples. Line drawings from his figure studies served as the starting points for Dirty Martini III and Ruby Greta Ruby I, whose main outlines he rendered in colored sand sprinkled with glitter. Human forms are submerged in swirling eddies of richly patterned serpentine or biomorphic shapes. Like his new sculptures, the works on paper reaffirm an affinity with the Pattern and Decoration movement of the 1970s. In his latest body of work, this always playful, inventive artist shows that he is thinking ever more expansively about the expressive power of abstract art.
Photo: Christopher Tanner: Timothy’s Bounty, 2009, paint, sand, mirror and mixed mediums on wood, 15 by 201⁄2 by 6 inches; at Pavel Zoubok.