Enduring Patiently is Los Angeles-based artist Yuval Pudik's second solo exhibition at Silverman Gallery, in San Francisco. By name, it may sound like yet another tired reference to the state of affairs within the art market, an insinuation made more so by the title's origins in the Bible: "And you endure patiently and have borne burdens for My sake and have never grown weary." (Revelations 2:3) While many works on paper would crumple under such rhetorical weight, Pudik's adroit draftsmanship holds up. Though the biblical reference provides an ancillary point of departure in his work, the drawings are not biblical illustrations. Less dark than deadpan, Pudik's exaggerated forms amount to a critique of stereotypical symbols of masculinity.
The gallery walls are flanked with quasi-humanoids meticulously rendered in graphite on paper; priority of placement is given to Pudik's eponymous series of eight new works (the doubles of which are displayed on a table in the back room as a smaller, limited edition). From a distance, these sinuous characters appear more bronzed or photographic than rendered. Close up, the paper is textured with deep markings. Pudik treats his creations violently -- he dismembers and decapitates, cutting them from the paper.
Yet they are regenerative beings, sprouting symbolic imagery through displaced limbs that form intricate constellations in which jet engines and trees, bagpipes and megaphones, royal gowns, furs, bondage gear and gas masks coexist. For example, in Enduring Patiently No. 3 (2009), a figure dressed in kingly regalia supports a saddle and dangling stirrup from its neck, which morph into ribbon draped bagpipes and striped fabric. At the drawing's apex, the profiled eye of a watchful peacock's head stares knowingly. Though posturing triumphantly, this equestrian bird-king appears melancholic and resigned, yet somehow immortal. The figures in Pudik's series are adorned with so many signifiers of opulence and so many masculine caricatures that the drawings neither depict saintly martyrs -- nor are they harbingers of sorrow, exactly. Perhaps Pudik's drawings are simply absurd parodies -- of religion, of patriarchy, of dogma, and of surréalité.
The legacy of Surrealism is impossible to ignore here, as Pudik's work recalls collaborative Exquisite Corpse drawings and collages from the 1930s. Yet Pudik owes as much to Hans Bellmer, André Masson, and René Magritte as Claude Cahun and Bruce Conner, Dr. Seuss and Matthew Barney -- even haute couture. Beyond their slick technical intricacy, Pudik's drawings gain their appeal from a dreamlike androgyny resulting from his inclusion of historic and contemporary male accoutrements within the same drawing at the same time. While Pudik's series alludes to kings, the exhibition also includes three separate drawings of queens.
‘Kings' and ‘Queens' hold different meaning relative to cross-dressing, which adds an additional layer of subtext to the work. In the framed Mourning Trainer (2009), the largest work in the exhibition, it is unclear whether a tattooed Queen Victoria mourns Prince Albert or longs for the piercing. In the unframed Multitasker (2009), a queen with a palm tree emerging from her ruffled collar sits atop five bent legs sporting thigh-high leather boots. Queen Marry Stables (2008) likely plays on the actual Queen Mary, who purportedly forgave her executioners just before being beheaded with an axe.
Pudik favors a serial approach, and yet each of his kings and queens is its own self-contained world. The empty space of the surrounding paper in the Enduring Patiently series functions like a green screen used in video production by allowing the figures access to anywhere at any time, grounded in no specific place but themselves. This corresponds to the installation, as approximately one third of the gallery walls have been left blank. While the contrast between the grouped works versus open space might emphasize the latter as a site of contemplation, it does not provide enough relief from the busy intricate renderings that dominate the installation. Pudik's drawings of deformed bodies present alluring hybrids of gender, species, and conflated time. Yet while he skillfully condenses a fantastical atlas of imagery into a single page, there are ultimately too many pages on display.
["Enduring Patiently" remains on view through July 30th at Silverman Gallery, in San Francisco. From the top: Installation view; Multitasker (2009), Graphite on cotton paper, 38 X 19 1/4 Inches; all images courtesy the artist and Silverman Gallery]