Patrick Webb: Tinker Tailor Series Part I & II: New Punchinello Paintings
For his last exhibition as a member of the Painting Center Patrick Webb is exhibiting a selection of paintings from a new cycle based on the Tinker Tailor rhyme. The series begun in 2013 will ultimately include 50 plus paintings based on various verses and versions of the rhyme. Inspired by the simple representation of the endeavors described in the text Webb in his paintings explores not only aspects of these activities but also reflects back on 30 plus years of painting and forward to the invention of new pictorial imperatives .
As the artist writes in his notes for the catalog:
Since late 2013, I have been obsessed by the simple rhyme of Tinker Tailor—I love the seeming banality of the list that in verses and versions expands and resonates with associations and confluences. Umberto Eco says we make lists because we are afraid of dying. I agree, and would add we make lists to understand and to make connections. I enjoy the John Le Carré novels that use the rhyme. In them, the characters’ search for information is indirect—the questions asked reveal as much about the questioner as the answers reveal about those questioned. This is how art and the imagination work too—through implication and within ambiguities. So my ubiquitous Punch explores a series of activities. He inhabits the roles of the rhyme. It is a journey of possibility rather than of death and loss. I thought at first I would paint only one verse of 11 canvasses; then the discovery of a second verse precipitated 12 more canvasses. Further research revealed a third version that added another 19 characters bringing the series to 42 paintings. Then I had to write my own list, my own libretto, and now I am planning 60 canvasses. The sequence, like many of my recent series, is malleable—interchanging the placement of the paintings brings to light new connections, possible narratives and causalities that underscore the niggling strangeness of life, with its interconnectedness and unknowability.
The exhibition opens October 6 and goes through October 24. A reception for the artist will be held October 8, 6-8 PM A catalog of the first 23 canvasses will be available with notes by the artist and Jonathan David Katz curator of the exhibitions Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture and Art AIDS AMERICA.
View Catalog: Patrick Webb_Catalog.pdf
That Rare Mask that Identifies Its Wearer by Jonathan D. Katz
Puchinello’s mask, the singular constant in the pictorial world of Patrick Webb, is in the form of a cock, a mask that is also a dick. Stay with that metaphor a little, and it opens up to a wide expanse of contradictory possibilities in queer life: queerness as a kind of camouflage or cover for the many other, non-sexual things we are; as an identity category that sums us up, that literally becomes our face in the eyes of others—or ourselves; as the token of a sexual universe in which we are both the object of other men’s desire, and ourselves desiring, a blessed relief from the closet in which desire always moved in one direction only, always out towards others. This dick/mask materializes the paradoxical construct we call the closet, that identity that by definition must always leak evidence of the very queerness it is intent on denying, for if it were watertight, it wouldn’t be the closet but a seamless example of the heterosexuality. The point is that Puchinello’s mask opens up a space in which our sexuality is cleaved from the rest of what we are, and in so doing, it runs counter to the false unity we generalize as our identity. For the mask we wear that is our own queerness is at once blessedly right about us and woefully misleading. We are not the equivalent of our sexuality, even though in these times, queer sexuality is now perhaps the most salient thing about us. Of course, the cock/mask that Webb’s Punchinello wears was not his invention, but borrowed from the Commedia dell’arte tradition. The figure of Punchinello, called Punch in English, has always worn a mask with a beaked nose, albeit that mask is nearly always black, and the nose more fully integrated into it. Made a figure of ridicule, conniving and often violent, Punch is hardly a model citizen. Rather, he’s a comic figure whose defining characteristics are both his wily ways and his general excessiveness. Punch is thus made over into an apt figuration of queerness through this fraught combination of a camouflaged, yet excessive, performance of selfhood. He is as ripe an analog to queerness as one can encounter in the Commedia dell’arte tradition. In Webb’s appropriation of another veritable tradition, the Tinker, Tailor nursery rhyme, all the inherent, deeply buried queerness of the Punchinello figure is surfaced and exposed. He becomes a queer everyman in an all male world, his social standing highly variable, but his essential queerness at once his superficial costume and his deepest core identity. Whether dressed as a cowboy in a gay bar, pickpocketing as two men talk in Wall Street cocktail party, or working as a cop or a jailer, Punchinello occupies both sides of all our familiar polarities: rich and poor, empowered and oppressed, a judge and a crook, a soldier, sailor or doctor. He’s everyone and thus no one. He has no essential characteristics, save for his mask. This series of beautiful, richly colored and mysteriously atmospheric paintings thus asks the question that is thankfully increasingly possible to consider. What are we, what is it to be queer, when sexuality ceases to signify any defining, important or even identifiable difference? August 2015 Jonathan D. Katz directs the doctoral program in Visual Studies at the University at Buffalo. He curated Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, the first queer art exhibition ever mounted at a major US museum, which opened at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, winning the Best National Museum Exhibition award from the International Association of Art Critics and the best LGBT non-fiction book award from the American Library Association. His current exhibition is entitled Art AIDS America, opening in Tacoma in October, the beginning of a three museum national tour, accompanied by a substantial new book. A pioneering figure in queer studies, Katz was the first full-time American academic to be tenured in the field and founded and chaired both the Harvey Milk Institute, then the largest queer studies institute in the world, and the Queer Caucus for Art of the College Art Association. He also co-founded Queer Nation, San Francisco, and the Gay and Lesbian Town Meeting, the organization that successfully lobbied for queer anti-discrimination statutes in the city of Chicago. He is the president of the new Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York City, where he has curated numerous exhibitions.