Llyn Foulkes has been called the Zelig of contemporary art. Over the past five decades he has been consistently inconsistent, confounding critics and galleries with dramatic changes of direction whenever it seemed he was about to be overtaken by popular acclaim. He’s also been consistently ahead of the curve. He showed a year before Andy Warhol at the legendary Ferus Gallery in the mid-60′s and was heralded as an early master of Pop with his famous ‘Cow’ (a nicely rendered creature in blank space), anticipating Warhol’s bovine prints by three years. Among the artists with whom he emerged were John Baldessari, Wallace Berman, Robert Irwin and Ed Ruscha. Although he would probably scoff at the label, many admirers regard his musical performances as performance art.
His eclectic oeuvre includes intriguing meditations on the nature of photographic images, a light romance with nostalgic Americana, savage portraits reminiscent of Francis Bacon and scathing commentaries on the insidious nature of commercial pop culture — particularly the products of Disney (dead Mickey’s are strewn through recent works). And although he has zigged and zagged through the decades, an echo of Dada and a Duchampian playfulness inform much of his work (though certainly not in a manner that reveals any dreaded consistency).
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He is also an accomplished jazz musician. He played with R. Crumb and formed the Rubber Band, appearing once on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. Talking to him, it’s clear he has a huge fondness for the music. He is more ambivalent about his career as an artist (“painting is my torment, music is my joy” is a lyric from his song, “A Ghost in Hollywood”), possibly because he is so irked by an art market dominated by bottom-line galleries and self-important arbiters of cool.
|LLYN FOULKES: ONE MAN BAND
This forthcoming documentary chronicles the life of the legendary
Los Angeles painter/musician Llyn Foulkes. Through a series of
in depth studio conversations as well as interviews with collaborators
and critics, an illuminating portrait of the artist is revealed.Now at age 78, Foulkes has been acknowledged with a new level
of acclaim, but this film will explore the long road of neglect
and frustrations along the way, the road from Ferus to the Hammer.Directed by Tamar Halpern and Christopher Quilty
Original music and lyrics by Llyn Foulkes live.
Bedlam Magazine Publisher Jim Fittipaldi and I caught up with Foulkes at his studio, the Church of Art, in L.A.’s Brewery arts complex, and while we talked he rehearsed on The Machine, a conglomerate of drums, horns (many from rickshaws, bullock-carts and other Asian modes of transport, possibly including an elephant), rubber pipes, kazoos, cowbells and other arcane elements of mysterious origin. He was preparing himself for a performance at the Hammer and he confessed he was a bit nervous about the show. We asked him about how his music jibed with his art and this prompted a song:
“I didn’t start playing music until I was 11 years old when I first heard Spike Jones and because I was a kid I did cartoons, I used to copy things out of the comic books. I wanted to be a cartoonist. So the first music I heard was Spike Jones and his horns and bells — novelty music, right? So I started to get turned on to that.
That evolved into jazz…
Then I gave up all my music when I was just about seventeen,
Started looking at all the art books, things I’d never seen.
It really turned me upside-down,
I went to every museum in town,
I said ‘that’s just what I want to be,
I wanna go down in history,
I want everyone to think I’m special,
I want everyone to think I’m cool.
I wanna be a famous artist.
So I went to art school.
Well I sure learned a lot at art school — how to promote art.
A lot of the students at art school wanted to be famous, too.
Started to copy the art books and follow everything that was new.A lot of us started to be consistent,
Throw away our hearts,
To promote the tradition of art.Well, I left art school, had a show at the Ferus Gallery.
They said it was the best in town.
Then they really let me down.They wanted me to be consistent,
Throw away my heart,
They wanted me to be non-resistant;
To promote the history of art.And I didn’t go to their parties,
Painted at home instead,
So they kicked me out of the galleryAnd that’s when I got ahead
You see, I didn’t go to their parties,
I didn’t go to their parties,
And I joined another gallery.
Critics though my paintings were tough
I got in all the art magazines,
Museums started to buy my stuff.
Well they made me the belle of the ball,
I could do no wrong at all,
I won the Paris Biennale,
I thought that I would never fall.
But I never got a chance to look at myself,
Just put my problems on the shelf.
I had an image to live up to,
And I believed all the hullabaloo.
Started doing’ something different,
Critics didn’t like that very much.
They wanted me to do the same old thing,
They thought I was out to lunch.
– Jonathan Jerald, bedlammagazine.com