Liz Markus: Are You Punk or New Wave?
Zieher Smith Gallery
Through December 18, 2010
Punk was about color. Puce, fuschia, chartreuse. The colors of spray paint; the colors of cheap nail varnish and hair color. Colors abhorrent to Nature. Color represented individual choices, perhaps the last individual choice that the disempowered could actually make. The legions of those that came after missed the boat, and black became standard issue, no doubt due to the misguided apotheosis of the gormless retard Sid Vicious as the poster-boy for the movement. Liz Markus, as witnessed by her solo exhibition "Are You Punk or New Wave?" at Zieher Smith hasn't forgotten the primary role that color played in those years.
In the past Markus has used thin washes of subtle hues to pay homage to a wide variety of her artistic peers and heroes. Television idols, Color Field Abstractionists, and 80s artworld "superstars" like Julian Schnabel and Jean Michel Basquiat.
Her choice of technique and subject matter always seemed a perfect fit, well-meshed, if only because they were knitted together by her genuine admiration for what she depicted. How else to explain the success of her paintings of Nancy Reagan done as if painted by Jules Olitski? To be a fan, an afficianado, was not a hobby, in her view, it was a calling. Maureen Tucker once said that The Velvet Underground had about 100 fans -- but that all of them went and started their own bands. Markus has long followed this dictum, openly worshipping her idols, while never imitating them. Her work has trumped that of lesser talents, too many to list, whose wan pictures of Kurt Cobain or odes to Slayer never really rise past the level of fanzine illustrations.
Here, in her large paeans to Punks, color plays the vital role it once held, with results both witty and eleagic. Paintings of a ghostly Johnny Rotten-as-Elvis-as-painted-by-Warhol depict twinned Rottens (Double Rotten I, Double Rotten II, 2010). Her hand-painted version of Andy Warhol's silkscreened sivlerscreen idol is both a homemade tribute to both musician and artist, as well as sly nod to Warhol's early hand-drawn ink illustrations of his gods, like Truman Capote. Markus eschews image reproduction as a postmodern trope in favor of something deeper, and more personal. In the paintings "Basquiat" and "Basquiat 2" (2010) she portrays the football-helmet wearing painter in earthen hues and then in faded tones, suggesting something once seen and then remembered. The poignant portraits don't seek to emulate the brash style of the artist's work, but rather pay homage to the artist himself, whose frailty was masked under the armor of his own aggressive style of painting. In these works Markus is not afraid to wear her heart on her sleeve, communicating something personal or even private, instead of presenting a rote lesson in the deconstructing of a pop image.
In another body of work actual pages of ads from magazines like Artforum are given a splashy treatment of silver glitter. Ads for once-important-now-forgotten artists, as well as some of her artistic forbearers like Sturtevant are pasted to the canvas surface like Xeroxed handbills for The Ramones at CBGBs; the text for the shows is redacted with the glitter. While not without their own aesthetic merits, these collaged pieces seem haunted more than haunting. One looks to see if she might have included an ad for herself amongst them, like any good punk would have. Her long suit is her sense of searching for a real emotional connection, so crucial in the music and art of the punk moment. The Minutemen asked "Do You Want New Wave or Do You Want the Truth?" Markus clearly demands the second. - Bradley Rubenstein
Mr. Rubenstein is a painter, story teller, and smart culture aficionado.