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Llyn Foulkes

American, b. 1934


Lacquer on masonite
96 x 108.5 in. (243.84 x 275.59 cm)
Gift of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation and the Kathryn C. Wanlass Foundation

In 1963, when Llyn Foulkes painted this huge, untitled serial triptych of abstracted rock formations, he was at a crucial stylistic crossroads in his early career. The previous year, his somber, masterful collagist paintings—black, charred, and desolate—had been treated to a survey exhibition at the Pasadena Art Museum, and Foulkes was poised to take his place alongside Kienholz, Berman, and Conner as a purveyor of the still-burgeoning West Coast assemblage movement.

But as the subsequent decades have borne out, Foulkes has a profound aversion to resting on his laurels, and the new body of work he debuted at the Rolf Nelson Gallery was a radical departure from his previous successes. While retaining elements of that bag of tricks (most significantly the complex textural illusionism he had developed through applying and removing thin layers of paint with rags), he abandoned most of his scrap components in favor of traditional painting materials—oil on canvas (or in this case board).

At the same time, he put the built-in nostalgia and social critique of assemblage on the back burner. Instead, his new paintings seemed to demand a place at the forefront of contemporaneous avant-garde painting. Compositions based on postcards and other printed matter resembled the quotidian quotations of the emerging pop generation, his rag-smear textures began to look more like art informel than like Max Ernst, and his sections of precise geometric stripes picked up the minimalist gauntlet hurled by Frank Stella and his followers.

These stripes have been most often interpreted as stylized highway warning signs: Danger Ahead! For the rest of the 1960s, Foulkes’s paintings continued to focus on a deadpan formalist framing of the American landscape, but in the early 1970s, the social and political content of his early work returned with a vengeance. In retrospect, it had clearly been lurking just under the surface all along.

Doug Harvey

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