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Deborah Grant: Bacon, Egg, Toast in Lard / MATRIX 228

May 31, 2009 - October 11, 2009

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Deborah Grant: Suicide Notes to the Self, 2008 (details); oil, archival ink, paper, flashe paint, and enamel on five birch panels; 72 x 240 in.; courtesy of the artist and Steve Turner Contemporary, Los Angeles.

Download the exhibition brochure (PDF).

Deborah Grant’s paintings are dense—quite literally loaded with obsessive code-like mark-making, collaged and drawn symbolic representations, and flat silhouettes, and with myriad personal, cultural, and art-historical references. Her work is a kind of hallucinatory exercise, sampling across time and genre to connect ideas based in history and personal experience with political and social issues of the present. Grant’s distinctive and highly graphic visual style marries aspects of abstraction and illustration in a restrained palette of black, white, and red. She is influenced as much by pop-culture sources like vintage Life magazine photography, comic books, MAD magazine, and pulp images as by art-historical referents like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Bill Traylor, and Jacob Lawrence.

Grant’s MATRIX exhibition will premiere in its entirety the long-term project Bacon, Egg, Toast in Lard, which includes several shaped paintings on panel and a sound component (created by artist Jennie C. Jones) in addition to the twenty-foot-long centerpiece painting, Suicide Notes to the Self. This massive work operates on both a macro and a micro level: graphic silhouettes read crisply from a distance, grounding the nonlinear narrative, while up close, line drawings of symbols, figures, diagrams, machines, and collaged photographic elements signal the underlying themes of psychology, war, sex, and death. Grant conceived the painting to represent a kind of dream in which Jackie “Moms” Mabley, a pioneering comedienne on the African American Vaudeville circuit, and Francis Bacon, an Irish-born painter known for his grotesque, often violent figurative portrayals, are brought together in a London pub called House of Chantilly by a time-traveling character named Random Select. Although the association of the two historical characters might appear random, their biographies converge: both lived as out gay adults and both experienced traumatically violent events in their youth, exorcising these demons in their creative work by directly confronting issues of racism (Mabley), violence (Bacon), and sexuality (both). For Grant, this imagined conversation prismatically refracts through the specificity of these individuals to signal larger cultural concerns, creating a kind of third space between oppositional ideas—fact and fiction, research and free association, order and chaos, symbolic language and abstraction, internal and external realities, violence and control, imagination and representation.

Elizabeth Thomas
Phyllis Wattis MATRIX Curator

The MATRIX Program at the UC Berkeley Art Museum is made possible by a generous endowment gift from Phyllis C. Wattis.

Additional donors to the MATRIX Program include The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the UAM Council MATRIX Endowment, Jane and Jeffrey Green, Maryellen and Frank Herringer, Wanda Kownacki and John Holton, Charles and Naomie Kremer, Lenore Pereira and Richard Niles, Paul L. Wattis III and Anne Wattis, and other generous supporters.