In his fourth exhibition at Harris Lieberman, Brooklyn-based artist Tommy White, who works primarily as a painter, displayed a dozen sculptures (all untitled, 2010) on a wide benchlike platform in the main room. Lumpy amalgams of plaster, wood, metal, and red or black leather, the works vaguely resemble deformed human limbs or body parts, and speak to figural representation at its most abject.
The relationship between these sculptures and the body is made explicit in one work: a jockstrap affixed to an upright base, topped with plaster viscera from which pinkish paint drips down. The intention doesn’t seem to be to show grossness for shock’s sake, as it would be in the slasher flicks the works obliquely reference, but rather to draw parallels between art objects and sexual objects, and to embody the simultaneous attraction and repulsion that both can elicit. Perhaps the most striking of the sculptures is the least directly anthropomorphic—a small basin with two pink depressions that sits dangerously close to the edge of the platform.
White’s presentation of the abject continued with large-scale, haptic, semi-figurative and sometimes scatological paintings. The compositions feature broad white strokes on top of expanses of black or vice versa, crude forms rendered with visible brushwork, shiny surfaces juxtaposed with matte ones, and areas in which figure and ground become confounded. Day Dreaming (2009) consists of swaths of black, two white circles in the upper half and yellow-orange, funguslike coils that appear toward the bottom. In the punningly titled Love Comes (2010), two white legs—deranged and akimbo like those of Bellmer’s dolls, and cut off at the ankle by the compositional frame—are shown against a background of dark oil paint that seems to give off a damp heat. The work is a diptych, and where the two canvases and the legs meet is a smear of varnish—yet another reminder that artworks are like bodies, with all their promises and disappointments.
When White gets analytical, as in Hole (2009)—a black circle on a white background, which is inscribed, at the bottom right, with the word WHOLE, the first letter nearly wiped out—the results are less effective for being too illustrative. More painterly and ultimately more unhinged is an untitled Alberto Burri-esque composition from 2009, in which red marks appear as lesions on a streaky blue-black surface resembling gangrenous flesh, with a clot of paint at the top. The strength of this work, and of the show in general, lies in White’s ability to equate abjection and abstraction in a way that unifies subject and object.
Photo: Tommy White: Day Dreaming, 2009, oil on canvas, 114 by 90 inches; at Harris Lieberman.