Painter Kyle Thurman asks questions in the face of confrontation
For years, 36-year-old Kyle Thurman has worked on our cultural imagination’s propensity for violence and the glaring lack of emotional vocabulary that comes with it. Such was the seed of his long-running “Suggested Occupations” series, the drawings of which were exhibited at the Whitney in 2019. In “Parade,” Thurman’s second solo exhibition with the David Lewis Gallery, which opens in New York today today, September 9. , the artist launches three new bodies of work that develop new languages to further explore this conversation.
In his “Dream Police” series, Thurman paints lone figures in militarized superhero combat gear. The works point to our misguided tendency to harden ourselves in the face of conflicts that, more often than not, would be best resolved if met with love. “Why is the natural impulse to arm oneself or to accept conflict as the inevitable reality?” he said to me, speaking of the new series. “These works extract a very specific symbol from popular culture to ask questions about this reality more broadly. These fantastical body armors are like exoskeletons that exemplify these desires for control and power, and the fantasy for the human body to have the power to endure repeated conflict. I want to ask what are the dreams that require this physical and psychic armor that seems so prevalent.
The armor these figures wear is modeled from open source 3D print files designed and used by superhero fans to create their own battle suits. “In the early months of the pandemic, like most people, I was spending a lot of time on social media, and this kind of fandom of people 3D printing and customizing their own fantasy body armor started flooding my algorithm. I became obsessed with the time and work these people put into their fantasy armor,” he explains. “I came across open source websites where people were uploading the 3D print files to share their variants of these full size printable bulletproof suits. I started downloading the files and using them in 3D modeling software on my computer, and composited what would evolve from a digital file into the large scale paintings that are in the exhibit.
The paintings in Thurman’s “Diary” series, the second of three new works, seem to be in the more direct line of “Suggested Professions”. They are visual reminders of them – in both series the figures float in and out of abstraction, while appearing in various stages of completion – and are present throughout with a recurring sense of melancholy, no doubt a sub -product of a culture that trains men to protect themselves. versus emotional intelligence.
Three additional bronze sculptures on display – part of the third series titled ‘Crowns’ – take their form from amateur diagrams designed to illustrate the emotional processes that arise in the face of social conflict. By tangling multiple emotional responses together, Thurman created these small, web-like shapes that explore the emotional process and carry the metaphor of how we oversimplify emotions – how we disregard the paradox that every emotion contains almost all the others, that joy carries within it sorrow, that anger carries away shame, etc. As Thurman says, “Artworks that have had a lasting impact on how I see or think about the world often raise questions in the face of contradictions.”
“Parade” is on view at the David Lewis Gallery from September 9 to October 22, 2022 at 57 Walker Street, New York, New York.
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