We were once young, fully loaded, and gaveth not a fuck. We cut huge rails on an album called Unknown Pleasures; sorted weed together on something named Led Zeppelin. When we listened to the music, we looked at the covers and imagined the strange and luminous beings who created these sonic universes. Creatures like Brian Eno, who probably wore clothes of pure ocelot, owned a talking panda . . . had furniture made out of live girls. We were allowed to imagine. And it was one big fucking collective act. Gideon Bok captures something of this time in his exhibition Record Store.
Many artists have used music as both subject and metaphor in painting. From references in the Dutch genre scenes of Hals and the Jazz cut-outs of Matisse to the syncopated color rhythms of Mondrian, music has proven a deep well from which to draw inspiration -- providing correspondences, or poetic analogies with multiple references that tie the aural to the visual. Bok, unlike many of his contemporaries (for example Christian Marclay), remains firmly rooted in the traditions of painting while choosing to explore forms of musical influence. In the past Bok’s work focused on interior spaces, such as his studio, which he depicted with a Giacometti-like, skeletal paint handling. Reminiscent of Frank Auerbach or Leon Kossoff, Bok recorded the process of painting by erasing, overpainting, and reworking -- building up layers of paint and meaning as a way of showing the activities that happened in the space. The end result of those paintings suggested a document, like a photograph that had been printed and reprinted over and over on the same sheet. It is worth noting that one of the early features of those studio “portraits” (besides bottles of Jack Daniels) was his phonograph and record LPs.
Here, though, Bok has narrowed his focus to the albums alone, presenting sets of oil on MDF panels mounted in rows: Welcome to the Monkey House (n.d.), Into the Pink (n.d.), Exile (n.d.). The subject is the record sleeve, which lies horizontally, creating a trapezoidal shape within the LP-sized panel. He paints with a rough, expressive hand while listening to the album he is depicting, linking the paint handling with its musical counterpart; Kandinsky attempted this synesthetic experience also in his work. Bok notes that he has been influenced by Erwin Panofsky and Merleau-Ponty, with particular regard for their theories of phenomenology and perspective. The collection of albums also calls to mind how closely we are all linked through what we believe is personal taste yet is really assumptions made by groups of people, not mere individuals. We are joined together by sensibilities. Liking the same thing. Bok elaborates on or obscures the original cover art (in itself an art form of the past), showing how our “perspective” of the work shifts by our perceptions of it.
There is a great story in Keith Richards’s autobiography where he describes tooling around London in the Sixties in his Bentley. He wanted to listen to music while he drove, so he had a stereo built in to the back seat. (This was way before iPods.) He then had to hire someone to sit in the back and change the 45s every few minutes. Bok’s paintings have something of that sense of nostalgia to them. In the age of digital music, it all looks very different now even though the songs remain the same. - Bradley Rubenstein
Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects is at 208 Forsyth Street in New York City.
Mr. Rubenstein is a painter, story teller, and smart culture aficionado.