Tad Lauritzen Wright
‘Garden and Gun’ at David Lusk Gallery, 4540 Poplar, in Laurelwood, through Oct. 27
Call 901-767-3800, or visit davidluskgallery.com
There are probably plenty of people who, when they read a statement like "This painting is about paint" want to scream, "Why can't a painting be about a deer standing by a lake with a mountain in the background?"
Well, we're way beyond that point — unless you're into buying examples of the Hudson River School — and it has become a truism of art created generally after about 1950 that an element of its meaning, if not the complete package, is the material and medium and process of its making.
Tad Lauritzen Wright, in his exhibition "Garden and Gun," at David Lusk Gallery through Oct. 27, makes forays into both realms: that is, the world of paint and process but also the area of representation and implied narrative, conveyed with a luscious, reckless, spattery sweep. The medium is both the message and the massage. There's even a deer.
"Garden and Gun" refers to the magazine founded in 2007 and published in Charleston, S.C., that caters to people too hip for Southern Living. The title encompasses many aspects of culture in the South, the genteel and the outdoorsy, the hifalutin and the red-necky, the recherché and the up-to-date. So, too, do Lauritzen Wright's mixed-media works embody, sometimes directly, sometimes obliquely, similar concerns.
Asking this artist to create art without humor, sometimes of the broadest sort, would be like asking an Olympic diver to perform with hands and feet tied; the comedic is second nature to him. This exhibition, however, keeps its caprice more on the hinted-at level than explicitly stated and is often a conjunction of medium and technique rather than story, macabre or sweetly silly rather than jokey.
An example is "A Tear for Mark," which may contain a quality of sadness and the elegiac, but because the figure of a horse's head that is the piece's focus is made of glitter — so much piled on that glitter becomes a personification of darkness — that extravagance is outrageously funny. Humor also is inextricable in a series of small and large flower paintings that by their cartoonish nature or sense of embellished hyperbole become intrinsically (and perhaps ironically) risible.
But a deeper purpose seems apparent.
The South is traditionally a violent place, and for all its sunny, splashy jocularity, "Garden and Gun" radiates deep malevolence. What else to make of the noble, teary-eyed deer of "Forgetting Where I'm From," the comical turkey of "Upon the Hill," or, one of the exhibition's iconic pieces, "Betting on a Winner," which depicts a bear, rendered in the most primitive of drippy, bunched-up pigment, with its front paws raised, in greeting or triumph or surrender. All these animals are habitual targets of the South's legions of hunters and serve as reminders — as does "Goodnight Sweetheart," a large rendition in silver foil and black paint on a garish yellow background of a .45 automatic pistol — that the garden and the gun hold equal weight below the Mason-Dixon Line.