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Nicola Tyson
by Lisa Danbrot

Nicola Tyson, figure on tiled floor, 1997 oil on canvas
Nicola Tyson, red self portrait, 1997 oil and charcoal on canvas

I saw the Nicola Tyson show at Friedrich Petzel. I didn't really pay attention the first time. Several days later, I went back. The work is figurative, and there is fun to be had with adjectives--gummy, bulbous, alien, and fetal--the words group and regroup about the bodies. The colors are acid, buff, vibrating, and dull, and the surfaces are chalky and washy. In each piece a singular figure is central, or two figures are symmetrically placed, and all figures are similar in scale to the size of the canvas. Sometimes voluminous, other times paper-doll thin, twisting like stills of that computer animation technique that shows you the human body from all perspectives (like in The Bionic Woman).

These figures' arms and legs periodically resemble birth defects--underdeveloped like fins, wings, or stumps. Often areas of a body are swelling, attempting to expand and form another appendage, and often, they are successful in doing so, as in figure on all fours, in which the figure is arced backwards on her knees, and her pelvis has given way to a rubbery bottle opener-like protrusion. It is as though this unexpected form has emerged as a bubble gum bubble only could, seconds before I have arrived to see it, and that her posture and elongated neck are a reaction to the surprise of the blessed event. If that figure was surprised, the figure in self portrait walking around, a somewhat less genderful being has taken for granted that it has utters, or something similar , and engages in a tip-toey rounding of a rounded corner, extending it's arm things as though they are about to pull some pants on. In red self-portrait, the bodies' super elastic bubble plastic legs have no beginning, and no end, but connect where there would be feet, forming a shape that is the cousin of the aforementioned bottle opener. figure on tiled floor poses, sort of modeling some red tights. Its lovely legs and proportionately large rising phallus make up for the fact of a missing upper body. They live in ambiguous environments like a dark hallway with a closed door, or an infinite red checkered tile floor. Sometimes a body part will echo, making a pattern like wallpaper weaving back and forth from the inner figure to the outer atmosphere.

Though certain of the figures are shapely, and have feminine feet, others are gender, and even species unspecific. This lack of distinction unclogs the freeway of preconceptions, and challenges me to define for myself a whole new set of criteria by which to contextualize anatomy, or the living organism in varying environments. If there is a lack of conformation to gender and species, there is no shortage of peculiar specializations to be spotted. Certain accessories make clear a sense of individuality that transcends, at the same time that it selects the physical, sexual, and the personal. For instance, palpable characteristics emerge in two figures jumping, wherein the two figures are young and lithe, like budding teenage sylphs. yellow self-portrait, and red self-portrait have faces--large soulful eyes, and honest expressions atop their goofy balloon bodies, making them eerie, due to the overlap of human and humanoid. And in figure with handles #1 (a crab-medallion poised on a spear), the figure that bares the least resemblance to human form has a round belly and small naval that lend to a very familiar, and exclusively assigned persona.

It occurs to me now, that my evasive behavior the first time I'd come into contact with these paintings may have been due to the passive vibe they exude. They are casual about themselves, and don't know they are being stared at. The figures are neither celebratory nor miserable in their freakishness. As otherwordly as they are, it seems that the other world in question may have been only coincidentally other. As though it's an accident that we don't come out looking like this. Tyson's paintings don't talk about a persecuted body, or the victimization of women where the history of body image is concerned, but point out a parallel female consciousness of our psycho-physical selves. Maybe she has tapped into this through a defiance of self censorship, but here is the only place that the word defiance can be applied, because there is no evidence of resistance anywhere else, on the contrary, a unique sense of possibility prevails.

Lisa Danbrot

Brooklyn, New York

1997

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