Tyler Green
Art-focused Journalism by Tyler Green

Tyler Green Modern Art Notes

Lari Pittman on Charles Demuth and ‘Figure 5′

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The Lari Pittman painting on the right, Untitled #9 (2007) is on the cover of last year’s Rizzoli Pittman monograph. (I reviewed it here.) It’s a super painting, bursting with energy, color, even temptation.

And of course, it’s impossible to think of it without first thinking of Charles Demuth’s great I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold (1928, left) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Figure 5 is one of the eight abstract portraits Demuth made of friends, almost every single one of whom was in some way forced to hide something from the dominant culture, namely their sexuality.

“Abstraction allowed the simultaneous expression and concealment of [Demuth’s] subject’s character and personal life,” David C. Ward writes in the catalogue for the National Portrait Gallery exhibition “Hide/Seek,” which is on view now at the Tacoma (Wash.) Art Museum. “His subjects could ‘hide in plain sight’ from those who could not read the codes.”

On this week’s Modern Art Notes Podcast, I asked Pittman what was the relationship between the Demuth and his painting. Here’s what he said:

I know that painting and I love that painting but this was really — numbers have ┬áperiodically and continue to make an appearance in [my] work. The reason I chose that painting for the Rizzoli monograph is that I felt it was a very gregarious painting and… an unusual, populist gesture for me.

You know, I refuse to high-five. Students of mine are like, ‘Are you going to get Lari to high-five me?’ And I refuse, because to me it’s like a type of code of heterosexuality that I’m just not interested in. So maybe there’s a slight separatism that comes out in refusing to physically high-five anybody. (Laughs.) So I thought, ‘Get over it Lari, stop being such a prickly thing!’ and try to high-five the world, or your viewer and that was really an attempt to make a painting about something very mundane and almost embrace a populism that I don’t always like embracing.

You can download this weeks’ MAN Podcast directly to your PC or mobile device, subscribe via iTunes or via RSS. It’s a really good show, full of Pittman talking about specific paintings (something he hasn’t done a lot in previous Q&As) and especially talking about the sociopolitics that have impacted his work.

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  1. Titus O'Brien says:

    How is a painting based on a WC Williams poem a portrait of a closeted homosexual? Not saying it isn’t, but this is news to me. Fill us in.

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