Llyn Foulkes

The Rape of the Angels, 1991, mixed media, 60 by 104 inches.

The Rape of the Angels, 1991, mixed media, 60 by 104 inches.

The labels that people have attached to Llyn Foulkes have been completely inadequate to his art, as labels always are to great artists. He has often been identified as an L.A. Pop artist because he launched his career in the early 1960s as part of the Ferus Gallery stable, and because pop culture icons such as Mickey Mouse, Superman and the Lone Ranger frequently turn up in his work. In fact, after his mid-1960s photo-based paintings of rocky outcroppings, his work has had little to do with Pop art. The relief paintings he has devoted himself to making for the last 25 years are meticulously constructed over excruciatingly long periods of time (his massive The Lost Frontier is dated “1995-2005”) with techniques that have more to do with the Middle Ages than with late 20th century America.

Llyn Foulkes - The Lost Frontier

The Lost Frontier, 1995-2005, 87 by 96 by 8 inches

Also at odds with the spirit of Pop is Foulkes’s ornery defiance of the art market. For all the social critique encoded (or read) into Pop art, artists such as Warhol and Lichtenstein were first and last commercially savvy producers, more accommodating to marketing than any generation since the birth of modern art. For his part, Foulkes soon stopped making the only kind of work that ever brought him easy market success (the rock paintings) for increasingly difficult work, starting with paintings of grotesque, battered heads.
Lastly, if Pop is about the Now, Foulkes is a partisan of the Then. Although innovative and daring as an artist, he is more likely to celebrate the past, and to lament the loss of the old ways of doing things. This is especially evident in his elegies for lost Los Angeles, which he has decried in paintings such as The Rape of the Angels (1991) and songs (“Old L.A.”). (As a musician, Foulkes favors old-timey, vaudevillian styles for his one-man-band performances; he’s as distinctive a musician as he is a visual artist.)

Lately there’s been a wave of artworld nostalgia for L.A. in the 1960s, from the posthumous Dennis Hopper show at LA MOCA to a trio of New York gallery shows celebrating the impact of surfing subculture on visual art. Although Foulkes was very much part of the ’60s L.A. scene, it’s hard to see his work being successfully appropriated for such projects: he is at once too apocalyptic (his presence was key in “Helter Skelter,” the 1992 show of dark L.A. art) and too invested in a deeply pessimistic view of history; his protagonists are usually victims of forces they are incapable of understanding. One line in “Old L.A.” encapsulates the sense of befuddlement and loss that pervades so many of his paintings: “I guess I’ll never know why the good times had to go.”

4 Responses to Foulkes

  1. Jim Waid says:

    Wonderful to see someone pay attention to Foulkes. I saw his work (the repeated mountains) in the 60’s when I was an undergraduate and was knocked—even did some Foulkes influenced pieces for a short time. Later I lost track as he was ignored by the art world, with a piece only surfacing every once in a while. Then a few years ago saw a show in NY at at Chelsea gallery—paintings, video of him playing his music, etc. Didn’t always understand what was going on—weird, sorta irritating, but truly original. It got under my skin staying with me more than most. The mark of important work being done. Thanks for bringing some attention to a much neglected artist.
    Also, good to see you pick out Spoerri, Biala, and Sugarman.

  2. Mark Greenwold says:

    Dear Raphael,
    Just came upon your astonishing Silo site. Great to see both Adami & Llyn Foulkes discussed. I’ve always loved Adami’s work & while not exactly mystified by how little interest he’s had in the states, I’ve always thought he’s should be much better known. I taught briefly with Foulkes at UCLA in the early seventies. Kitaj was there too. Foulkes never spoke. He was making those early photo-realist mountain paintings at the time that had very little interest for me. Who knew he was to go on to make these amazing constructed painting/objects that took him almost as long to make as a Myron Stout.


  3. I am delighted that you are covering Llynn Foulke’s work. “The Last Frontier” is a particularly rich piece materially in a way that is not immediately evident in a reproduction.

    New work will be on view at Kent Fine Art (210 Eleventh Avenue) opening tonight, October 27th, 2011.

  4. Dave Kearns says:

    Really nice appreciation of Foulkes’ myriad complexity. I was banned from a “popular” NY art blog for mounting a spirited challenge to a very dismissive and simplistic review of his New Mu retro a couple years back. Thank you much.

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