Over the Influence is pleased to present Disturbances Foreign and Domestic the first solo exhibition of American artist TL Solien with the gallery.
TL Solien (b. 1949, Fargo, ND) creates otherworldly dreamscapes, juxtaposing familiar characters with unusual and outlandish surroundings. Viewers find themselves cast into his idiosyncratic narratives, where strange ceramic tchotchkes, vintage lawn ornaments, and all manner of kitsch memorabilia seem to come alive. And yet his fantastical paintings and drawings, of which a selection from the past five years are included here, are deeply rooted in the real. The clowns, donkeys, sailors, and teapots are out of the bag, and they’ve come marching right to the canvas’s edge, a hodgepodge of seemingly virtuous knickknacks that look you right in the eye. While these cultural artifacts ooze a midcentury Americana innocence, Solien reveals a more nuanced subversive dimension.
These canvases are rife with reference points—at once an examination of contemporary social life, domestic politics, and Solien’s personal existential dynamics. The artist imbues these canvases with a certain subjectivity, inserting memories and lived life experiences into his compositions. The larger than life decorative floral teapot that appears in various works including Imitation of a Kiss (2015) may represent a metaphor for a love interest, partner, or spouse. In this work, the boxer is bloody, panting, and beaten to a pulp while the opposite figure stands unscathed and unphased. There is a futility to his punches. The artist employs these satirical characters to scrutinize universal pursuits like finding love and maintaining fulfilling relationships. Sometimes, there is no resolution in sight.
Other narratives are less overt but no less sharp. Solien toys with the realm of connotation while simultaneously making direct reference to various cultural phenomena. Characters from
19th century American Western expansion photographs banter beside protagonists from a favorite Cormac McCarthy novel. Older series have both paid homage to and reimagined themes as diverse as Renaissance era Sienese altarpieces and the experience of Ahab in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Solien senses a human frailty and desperation in books, vintage antique objects, and even contemporary current events—each phenomenon equally worthy of his thoughtful analysis.
Solien’s figures are often desperate, dejected, or forlorn. In so many works, he depicts cops pointing pistols, terrorizing citizens, and wielding unchecked power. These pieces mark Solien’s response to the enormous liberties police have taken in fighting crime and the warped sense of justice in this country. In the painting Cape Passage (2014) and the drawing Pretty Polly ETC. (2015), the artist reproduced the structure of Edward Hopper’s classic Cape Cod Morning (1950), inserting a uniformed police officer in the bay window where Hopper’s lone female figure gazes out. Both paintings meditate on our sense of wholesome America, yet Solien’s narrative manipulation invokes a more acute sense of distress that comes from consuming contemporary American current events.
The artist has described the motley crew of characters that he has employed for many years as a tribe of vandals, each pursuing quests more morbid or outlandish than the next. The exhibition can be viewed as a collection of dark motifs that enter his mind, then reproduced as vaguely autobiographical non sequiturs. Curiously, Solien is most interested in the way these figures stand in as points of departure for the human condition. Somehow, there is a rhythm to this chaos.