Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective
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Exhibition co-curators Elisabeth Sussman and Lynn Zelevansky discuss a selection of works by the legendary American artist, Paul Thek. The audio guide includes commentary by artist Neil Jenney and literary scholar Ed Burns, who also reads excerpts from the artist’s extensive writings.

NARRATOR: For a few years, Thek produced little work. Then in 1979, he wrote to a friend:

PAUL THEK [ED  BURNS]: I am beginning to paint again, little canvases, very little, 9 x 12 inches all different styles, all different subjects.

NARRATOR: You see the kinds of paintings he’s describing along this wall. Curator Elisabeth Sussman:

ELISABETH SUSSMAN:  He was a masterful draftsman. I mean, he could draw anything, he could paint anything. And he had a certain hidden desire to be a great painter. And when he comes back to New York the whole idea of what a great painting is is up for grabs.

NARRATOR: Thek quickly picked up on an emerging 1980s style, which, ironically, became known as “bad painting.” The brushwork is expressionistic, almost like finger painting. The colors are garish and jarring. The subject matter is often inscrutable. Thek described the work as “kitschy . . .  not well painted . . . rough, and not harmonic.” In keeping with the style, he presented these pictures in cheap gold-leaf frames, with brass picture lights. But compared with the enormous size and high seriousness of other 80s painting, Thek’s work was intimate, playful, and approachable. You see these kinds of paintings in this gallery.

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