Thaddeus Strode, Gothic Mirrors in the Age of Electronica, 2004. Mixed media on canvas, 84 1/6 x 112", The John L. Stewart Collection.
Thaddeus Strode, Absolutes and Nothings, 2001. Mixed media on canvas, 86 5/8 x 83 1/16". Private collection, Los Angeles. Image courtesy of neugerriemschneider, Berlin.
Thaddeus Strode, I'm Losing Myself, Detail, 2005. Mixed media on paper, 51 9/16 x 35 7/8", Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis. University purchase, Bixby Fund, 2006.
Mildred Lane Kemper
One Brookings Drive
Absolutes and Nothings
February 8-April 21, 2008
By LIAM OTTEN
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.
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University in St. Louis presents the first major museum exhibition of 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 features more than 24 large-scale mixed-media paintings created over the last eight years.
Strode's work represents a provocative strain in contemporary painting that expresses a penchant for dark humor and the absurd. 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 interact producing cryptic and captivating fantasy worlds. Under the Killing Moon (…Spilling and Spilling…There Was a Point Where No One Resisted) (2004) shows a large pale toad perched in a dark skyscape of floating orbs, keyboard letters and truncated phrases. The title 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 example is Come out Screaming (American Dreams) (2006), in which a hillbilly-like cartoon figure marches through geometric abstractions and 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 show his interest in the grotesque and transitional states of being. For example, the castaway in Strode's Absolutes and Nothings (2001), source of the exhibition's title, 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, revealing the artist's heightened sense of the incongruous, sinister, and bizarre.
Thaddeus Strode: Absolutes and Nothings is 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 Otis/Parsons Art Institute and 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 Kunstverein in Heilbronn, Germany; neugerriems-chneider in Berlin; Galerie Michael Janssen in Cologne; Galleria Gio Marconi in Milan; Cirrus Gallery and Happy Lion, both in Los Angeles; among others. Recent group shows include Sympathy for the Devil: Art and Rock and Roll Since 1967 at Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Imagination becomes Reality at ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany; KLF: Strictly Painting at 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.