Blair Thurman, a Pop Sensitive, and his work, a haphazard reclaiming of the “Look of Kool.” His method is gaze and memory rather than cold analysis. More like the free associations of a Beat poet on the road, happening upon Gonzo situations and structures, awash in neon, remembering a childhood of Hot-Wheels and model-glue, suspended in a haze of martinis, coffee, pain-killers, anti-histamine & Thera-Flu…The road as abstraction. Thurman turns the road on edge. Thurman recognizes the art [of the road] and transforms the idea into a painting…An obsessive action driven by obsessive collecting. The aesthetics of punk underground trash…a tube of Testors in each nostril…hurtling through space. The loner as Silver Surfer confronting the post-punk existential. For me the creature is our darker nature…our subjective selves. The dark self on the road to nowhere.
—Steven Parrino, 2003
Gagosian New York is pleased to present recent work by Blair Thurman, his first solo exhibition with the gallery.
As a boy in the 1960s, Thurman spent afternoons at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, where his mother was director. Something of a mascot, he spent his childhood looking up to figures such as Andy Warhol, Nam June Paik, Carl Andre, and Ed Kienholz—openings, installations, a literal behind-the-scenes education. As an art student in the 1980s, he sought to escape prevailing theoretical concerns. In search of “pre-art school” points of departure, Thurman revisited his childhood infatuation with slot cars: “They were in their heyday and I had an amazing collection of Hot Wheels, which were innovative and painted with an amazing paint called Spectraflame.” He recalls wanting the subject matter or content of art to have as deep a personal connection as its formal aspects.
Thurman combines this personal iconography with an acute awareness of the inherent challenges of painting, resulting in a Pop-Minimalist sensibility infused with tribal patterns and American car culture. As on the open road, associations come and go, and the destination depends on the viewer. Titles—Scarsdale 500; Horton Hears a Hoo Hoo; Coppertone Glam (all 2014)—reveal the extent of his eccentric reconfigurations of each subject. You Only Live Twice (2014), a rectangular painting based on the shape of Thurman's own business card, riffs on the speedway and the floating mat with four precisely cut decals framing open voids. The surface is painted with Silver Lilac Poly car lacquer, a special paint option for the 1962 Chrysler Imperial.
Thurman’s work owes as much to his command of a broad range of media as to subconscious influences. Parallel to, and sometimes in combination with his paintings, he has transposed his signature imagery into neon. In Mr. White (pour N.J.P.) (2008), decals from a model kit—thin, curving shapes from the Hot Rod counter-culture of the 1940s and 50s—are transcribed into glass on wood. Honey Badgers (2009) incorporates neon and acrylic paint in an exuberant reimagination of a Haida image from a favorite T-shirt; the totemic symmetries of the painted surface are shadowed in yellow, blue, and pink, electrifying an ancient style. Thurman deftly employs the intrinsic associations of neon, from bar signage to Minimalist and Conceptual art, to free his diverse appropriations from their original contexts, shaking up the disparate visual fragments and recreating them in bright light.
Blair Thurman was born in New Orleans in 1961, and lives and works in New York. Selected exhibitions include “Bastard Kids of Drella,” Le Consortium, Dijon (1999, curated by Steven Parrino); “None of the Above,” Swiss Institute, New York (2004–05); “Bastard Creatures,” Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2007); “Born to Be Wild,” Kunstmuseum St. Gallen, Switzerland (2009, curated by Konrad Bitterli); “American Exuberance,” Rubell Family Collection, Miami (2011); “The Old, The New, The Different,” Kunsthalle Bern (2012); and “Blair Thurman,” MAGASIN Centre National d'Art Contemporain de Grenoble (2014).