Moving Pictures

Robert Wilson's cutting-edge portraits bring something new to the frame.

One of Wilson's most surreal images on display is the picture of William Pope L., a.k.a. "The Friendliest Black Artist in America."

The writer and performance artist lies prone on a manicured lawn, sporting skivvies and combat boots. His body is covered in pancake makeup and a crown jauntily rests on his dome. He regally holds up an egg in one hand as a plush toy lamb sits on the grass near his crotch. As one waits for some movement, the lamb suddenly puckers up and bleats, "Mary had a little me," in the subject's own voice. Like many of Wilson's gemlike miniproductions, it's good for a belly roll.

Two works that also elicit laughs are the portraits of Brad Pitt and Steve Buscemi.

Robert Wilson's William Pope L.: Burger King's new ad campaign sure is different.
Robert Wilson's William Pope L.: Burger King's new ad campaign sure is different.

Pitt is seen in his boxer shorts as he stands against a brick wall in a downpour. When the rain stops lashing him, the actor slowly raises a water gun at the spectator and crows, "Ready or not, here I come," while squirting away.

Buscemi shows up in a white coat and tie and a bloody lab apron. Chewing gum and tapping his toes, he leans over a slab of raw meat.

If I had to choose a favorite portrait, it would be that of Norman Paul Fleming, a grease monkey wearing a mustard-hued plaid shirt, overalls, and plenty of grit under his fingernails. Sitting at a wooden table, sporting sunken cheeks and red-rimmed eyes, the mechanic exudes an American Gothic vibe. As the tinkle of piano ivories emanates from the image, the Clintonian prole seems to teeter from side to side.

And not unlike the New York senator's evaporating presidential chances, Wilson reminds us that if he had his way, those throwback approaches to painting might soon fade too.

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