Yesterday Proposition Eight was abolished in California, which pretty much means that gay marriage is now legal here! I was asked to write this piece today to celebrate with the Catharine Clark Gallery.
The figures in Timothy Cummings’ work look like they’ve been extracted from a Botticelli altarpiece and transplanted into a kid’s dream, or a sort of apocalyptic Eden. It’s all very paradoxical. His subjects all seem to be at that awkward age between childhood and maturity. The inquisitive gaze that falls on the viewer is ambiguous. Is the figure aware of his (or her?) sexuality; is his cocked head just innocently observing?
Critical perception of Timothy Cummings’ work has often focused on his lack of official training. Painting Lesson, a smaller canvas for Cummings, seems to be a playful response to the media’s tendency to highlight this particular aspect of his biography. The rainbow-hued silhouette that dominates the left side of the canvas evokes lessons learned in preschool painting class, as does the impasto pallet at the top of work. Yet reflected in the rainbow silhouette is a finely painted and brocade-clad figure that offers a counterpoint to the more abstract forms. The finesse of the figure defiantly shows: “who needs formal training?”
The juxtaposition of various styles makes this Cummings piece stand out from his usual repertoire. His other works completed in the same period such as A Rare Flower or Clairvoyant are more conventionally ‘complete’; they have the Renaissance luminosity of Caravaggio’s masterpieces Bacchus, or Boy Bitten by a Lizard, and share the same homoerotic appeal. Yet everything in Painting Lesson seems to be a veritable pastiche of styles, even the literal canvas is pasted together creating a sort of quilt-like surface. The decision to leave areas of the canvas raw and the gobs of paint preserved as a palette above the subjects’ heads make the piece seem unfinished. Yet, as the name might suggest, Painting Lesson seems to pose an answer to some of those perpetual dilemmas facing artists. “When is my piece complete?” is confronted by the direct gaze of the figure who defiantly declares ‘Right now’. It’s quite a rebellious painting.
Whether you’re interested in work reminiscent of historical masterpieces, are a fan of Cumming’s masterful ability to synthesize disparate styles, or you just want something to celebrate today’s historic overruling of Proposition 8, Cumming’s pint-sized painting is a unique choice from his wide repertoire.
Timothy Cummings will be showing new work in August at the Transart Institute in Sao Paulo, Brazil.