At a moment when the promise of the American Dream seems more bankrupt than ever, the work of Los Angeles painter Llyn Foulkes strikes a resonant, albeit jarring, chord. In portraits, landscapes and works based on postcards, Foulkes conjures a dystopian narrative of the West gone rancid.
Augmenting thrift-store Surrealism with caustic social-political commentary, the 82-year-old artist's peculiar vision, perused here across works dating from the mid-1960s to the mid-'80s, seems newly current. Since his early shows at L.A.'s legendary Ferus Gallery, Foulkes has remained uncompromising; his imagery is blunt and its execution raw, but there's no denying its impact.
The exhibition opens with 1964's Death Valley. Calif., which depicts the titular landscape in quasi-illusionistic style. But a striped border and cryptic inscription steer things in a less conventional direction, pointing to the subject's status as both a commodity and a symbol. More strident still are the "Bloody Head" portraits, including 1985's Art Official. In it, a figure in a suit leans out of a window in a brick wall as he holds a phallic stick of dynamite. His face is caved in by some sort of refrigerator or other appliance, while behind you can make out a gallery space. The queasy physicality of this disturbing scene speaks to the artist’s visually awkward but always-committed body of work, with which he confronts the nation's failings through true painterly grit.