The Friends and Neighbors EffectFebruary 10, 2010
Bryson Gill’s exhibition The Friends and Neighbors Effect examined through the lens of Luc Tuymans.
Luc Tuymans’ influence on today’s generation of artists is significant. Such artists have absorbed Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, and Hannah Arendt by way of Tuymans and other postmodern heavyweights, and are now making work that is interesting in part because it is still unresolved.
Bryson Gill is one such artist. Gill’s paintings resemble miniature stage sets or elaborate tableaux of mismatched furniture and thrift-store finds. His work bears up under heavy scrutiny, retaining a fresh “How did that get there?!” feeling. In Emporium, A Series of Possessions (2009) and Emporium, A Series of Possessions and Spaces (2009), the artist uses flat, architectural photo fragments to anchor the works’ compositional backgrounds. Gill creates an object from the flat image by adding a receding edge or shadow, establishing volume. To the foreground he adds zones of shallow space, layering objects and platforms or false floors, offering a bird’s-eye view of miscellaneous stuff.
Gill builds on Tuymans' use of flat images and the abstract void, the negative space of the painting. He states, “The void for Tuymans is a backdrop for me,” then adds, “where Tuymans avoids filling it visually, I've sort of been overfilling it visually.” Tuymans uses the memory of horror and fear to raid space in the viewer’s mind, setting up what he calls “the assault.” Tuymans induces a kind of paranoia with a one-two punch: first an innocent image, then the return of horror. A prolonged ride on this roller coaster has the opposite effect—everything becomes trivial. Tuymans often states that he doesn't take a moral stance on horror. Speaking about “Against the Day,” a 2009 solo exhibition in Brussels, he says that he is “showing things as raw material, dispersed and disjointed, simultaneously offering more and more propositions, but basically going nowhere. It is the world as we know it.” 
Taking a conscious step back from Tuymans, Gill doesn't capitalize on titles, comments, or other explanatory texts. He prefers to leave the choice of seriousness up to the viewer, seeking to make work that at least begins humorously, avoiding judgment by holding as little meaning as possible. He drains a composition of value much in the way Tuymans undermines a chosen image with banality. Yet Gill keeps the question of intention in play, referring lightly to home foreclosures, yard sales, and current events, focusing on style and fashion, conveying the aura of an event or trend without delving deeper into its emotional baggage.
Gill has one foot in the postmodern flat aesthetic, and the other in the modern approach to objects and pictorial space. One set of paintings, titled Throwbacks, layers pre-Islamic sculptures and abstract painted shapes—standard takes on the play between two and three dimensions. In this setting, the effort comes across as mimicry; still, an affinity for materials, real time, and real space persists. The painting Cosmo (backdrop) (2009) frames a colored void with a palm tree, plant fragments, a column, and abstract symbols, possibly playing with Tuymans’ idea that the viewer does the work of filling the void.
Gill’s paintings and their possibility for endless spawning of new questions could prove tiresome even as they succeed. His work reflects on “a meeting point between irony and sincerity.” Gill is seriously interested in paint and is unperturbed by hours of careful masking and paint application. His work is accessible and aesthetically interesting because he’s juggling materials, objects, images, and the void.
“Luc Tuymans” is on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco through May 2, 2010. “The Friends and Neighbors Effect” was on view through February 7, 2010, at Triple Base Gallery, San Francisco.
Elizabeth Johnson is a San Francisco-based artist.