Carroll Dunham's paintings are the kind of thing a deranged child might produce in psychotherapy. The flowers are oversized, the trees are geometric, the sky is faithfully blue and there are angry scribbles covering all the best parts. The artist's signature looms in the corner as big and blocky as an identifying handprint, and paint splatters are not an unusual occurrence. In Dunham's show at Gladstone Gallery, a dozen paintings contribute to the impression of an artist seriously in touch with his inner child.
In competition with that enfant terrible is a fierce libido at work; a quick glance around the gallery reveals an energetic fascination with female anatomy and a willingness to go all the way with it. In one corner is a vagina with pubes the colour and texture of Fidel Castro's beard. In another a vagina straddles a tree while a smear of blood makes its exit from the abyss. Over yonder a vagina keeps company with an abstract cactus. Well, why not?
This well-why-not aspect encapsulates Dunham's vibe. In a catalogue essay accompanying a recent exhibition of Dunham's work, Kate Linker wrote that "Because [his paintings] are equally inspired by Aztec and Mayan art, recent American art, pornography, and cartoons (to cite only a few sources), these pictographs indicate the long arc of Dunham's imagination and the latitude of his visual reading habits, which range from high to low, rarified to vernacular, artistic 'literature' to esthetic pulp fiction."
If variety is a defining element in the artist's influences, manic laughter is a key part of the response it provokes. Gallery-goers taking in the paintings had a hard time keeping goofy smiles off their faces. This is a rare experience in a silent Chelsea gallery, and a lucky one too.
Carroll Dunham at Gladstone Gallery, New York, through December 5th