Since the late 1980s Los Angeles-based painter Thaddeus Strode has created wild, vibrantly colored mash-ups in which California surf and skateboard culture collide with Zen philosophy, rock music, literature, film, comic books and other popular motifs, all mixing freely with the artist’s own inventions.
In February, the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University in St. Louis will present the first major museum exhibition dedicated to Strode’s work as part of its Contemporary Projects series. Organized by Sabine Eckmann, Ph.D., director and chief curator of the Kemper Art Museum, and Meredith Malone, Ph.D., assistant curator, Thaddeus Strode: Absolutes and Nothings will feature more than two dozen large-scale mixed-media paintings created over the last eight years.
Strode’s work represents a provocative strain within contemporary painting, one that expresses, among other things, a strong penchant for dark humor and the absurd. Much of the strength and visual pleasure of Strode’s aesthetic comes from his self-reflexive combination of painterly styles and preposterous elements, allowing enigmatic texts, phantoms, monsters and castaways to play off one another to produce cryptic — and captivating — fantasy worlds. For example, Under the Killing Moon (…Spilling and Spilling…There Was a Point Where No One Resisted) (2004) depicts a large pale toad perched amidst a dark skyscape of floating orbs, keyboard letters and truncated phrases. The title, meanwhile, alludes to the classic 1984 post-punk anthem by Echo and the Bunnymen, adding yet another layer of meaning to this potent scene.
Strode’s compositions seldom convey specific themes or fixed ideas, but are filled with contradictions and incoherencies that play with viewers’ expectations while merging modes and styles historically viewed as oppositional — abstraction versus figuration, the expressive versus the rational. Unlike Pop or various instances of appropriation art, which directly incorporate recognizable imagery from mass media and everyday life, Strode’s canvases contain fragments that appear familiar yet somehow thwart the viewer’s ability to pinpoint definitive sources. One striking example is Come out Screaming (American Dreams) (2006), in which a hillbilly-like cartoon figure marches through geometric abstractions as well as loose, painterly drips and splashes.
Another key aspect of Strode’s work is the diverse and constantly evolving cast of characters — gorillas and castaways, ghosts and monsters — that demonstrate his interest both in the grotesque and in transitional states of being. For example, the castaway in Strode’s Absolutes and Nothings (2001), from which the exhibition’s title is derived, is an instantly recognizable metaphor for alienation and detachment from mainstream society. Here depicted in a state of limbo, the figure exists somewhere between civilization and island primitivism, thus revealing the artist’s heightened sense of the incongruous, the sinister and the bizarre.
Thaddeus Strode: Absolutes and Nothings will be accompanied by a full-color illustrated catalog. The book will contain essays by Eckmann and Malone as well as a provocative piece of short fiction by the author and visual artist Benjamin Weissman. Support for the exhibition was provided by James M. Kemper, Jr.; the David Woods Kemper Memorial Foundation; the Hortense Lewin Art Fund; and museum members.
Born in 1964 in Santa Monica, Calif., Strode studied at the Otis/Parsons Art Institute and the California Institute of the Arts, earning a BFA degree from the latter in 1986. His work has been exhibited across the United States and internationally, including more than 20 solo gallery shows at the Kunstverein in Heilbronn, Germany; neugerriemschneider in Berlin; Galerie Michael Janssen in Cologne; Galleria Gio Marconi in Milan; the Cirrus Gallery and the Happy Lion, both in Los Angeles; among others. Recent group exhibitions include Sympathy for the Devil: Art and Rock and Roll Since 1967 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Imagination becomes Reality at the ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany; KLF: Strictly Painting at the KLF Project Space in New York; and Funny Cuts: Cartoons and Comics in Contemporary Art at the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart. His work is in public and private collections worldwide. He lives and works in Los Angeles.
MILDRED LANE KEMPER ART MUSEUM
The Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, part of Washington University’s Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, is committed to furthering critical thinking and visual literacy through a vital program of exhibitions, publications and accompanying events. The museum dates back to 1881, making it the oldest art museum west of the Mississippi River. Today it boasts one of the finest university collections in the United States.
The Contemporary Projects series is designed to highlight the work of nationally and internationally significant visual artists and to explore their contributions to contemporary research, discourse and artistic practice. Previous exhibitions have focused on the work of Alan Cohen, Tom Friedman, Christian Jankowski and Arnold Odermatt, among others.
Thaddeus Strode: Absolutes and Nothings will open with a reception from 7 to 10 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8, in the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum’s Barney A. Ebsworth Gallery, and remain on view through April 21. As part of the reception, Strode will host a walk-through of the exhibition with the curators at 7:30 p.m. The reception, exhibition and walk-through are all free and open to the public.
The Kemper Art Museum is located on Washington University’s Danforth Campus, near the intersection of Skinker and Forsyth boulevards. Regular hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays; and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The museum is closed Tuesdays. For more information, call (314) 935-4523 or visit kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu.
WHO: Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum
WHAT: Exhibition, Thaddeus Strode: Absolutes and Nothings
WHEN: Feb. 8 to April 21, 2008. Opening reception 7 to 10 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8. Strode will host a walk-through with the curators at 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University, near the intersection of Forsyth and Skinker boulevards.
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Closed Tuesdays.
COST: Free and open to the public.
INFORMATION: (314) 935-4523 or email@example.com