Yek/Sue Williams

The question about how political abstraction can be, esp. in relations to painting keeps popping up, an unsolvable corundum in western art history, related to what subject the viewer is extracting. Two relatively recent examples point out that there is an easy way out of these formalist labyrinths, and one that is harder, stranger and more ambiguous. I am thinking of the new Singaporean/Vegas/Texan painter Yek and new work (drawings/painters) by prominent east coast feminist Sue Williams.

(Re Uptake Inhibitors, 2002, Acrylic on Canvas)

Sue Williams’ work is biomorphic abstraction in a cartoon style, so that the meanings can be juggled relatively easily—the work about the unruliness of lines in spaces. The way that they merge, and separate, fall together, and fall apart are really easy to decode. They are much less angry then the work that made her famous, but they are about the same sort of things. The formal interactions are metonymies of political systems, and the work is so clear about this. (I am talking about work called Reuptake inhibitors, Sea Life, or Hemit Vibrasse; work called things like Springtime for the RNC or are even easier to decode, they have ugly fields, and they have pink splotches floating about-it’s the post-painterly equivalent of “these fuckers are all assholes”). Her paintings are fantastic to look at, but aren’t the most subtle in the world.

(Springtime for the RNC, 2005)

Looking at Yek’s (formally Yek Wong, now first name only, darling) is even more interesting—they do not cut to the basics so immediately, they have the discrete precision of colourists like Noland, Truitt or Kelly, but they make one reconsider how those masters used colour. There is something so solemn, so polite, and so artistic about the object in post-painterly abstraction from the 1960s onwards. The work is solid, and the colour is tangible, the refusal of referents makes the work almost a tautology, and there is nothing outward looking in their meditative obsession with the rhetoric of painting (and it was needed to do that, and even sculptors painted, and where about the same issues.) Yek is really interesting; he has an obsession with looking outward.

His work is in hopeless bad taste, the colour of cosmetics, dystopian science fiction from the 70s, anime, and neon signs. They bulge obscenely towards the viewer; they are cut in sideways chevrons, like the doors to Cameros or AMC gremlins. But to make it about painting again, to make fun of the pretension/natural desire of some of his artistic parents, they are called things like nighttime or Forrest floor. There is a world in these panels. It makes sense that he went from Singapore, to Texas and then worked under Dave Hickey, in Las Vegas. Dave Hickey is an American curator who works angles people haven’t imagined, loves pleasure, and refuses the standard ways of looking. The pleasure of colour, the problems of cosmetic improvement, and the political implications of narrative are all found here (like they were in Warhol, and like they are in Williams), but he slips it to us, like the old story of the frat boy, the popcorn box, and the willing co-ed, all three at the movies. (There’s a reason why he calls himself the Barry White of post-conceptual painting)

The last image is from a series called Lies, which I think is one of the strongest, because of how many ways it talks about narrative. The colour transition slowly from the top to the bottom, telling an obtuse story, and the central figure comes from cartoon/comic explosions which explicitly attaches a second narrative relating to graphic tendencies and narratives (ie, they are about fiction, they are lies, its cute) (cute shouldn’t be a put-down)