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The paintings in Lenz Geerk’s exhibition The Table Portraits at Roberts Projects often picture figures who have suddenly, seemingly, fallen asleep, perhaps from lack of oxygen. The bouffant-ed heroine of Table Portrait III (all works 2018) doubles over from a standing position, her back knotty and arched. A similar narcolepsy afflicts Geerk’s figures in The Moth, as well as in an untitled work featuring a languid woman curled up by a single-stem vase. The rather thick substrate of wool on which Geerk paints adds to the at first soporific, blanketing effect.
Geerk’s style—isolated figures offset by stark geometry; vivid, closely-toned planes of color—and fondness for Fin de siècle hairstyles recalls the bygone, fluctuating early days of modernism, complicating the press release claim that Geerk’s paintings are “removed from any specific time or place.” Yet his tableaux slowly recall a more contemporary anxiety—weariness in the face of ongoing geopolitical turmoil, sure, but also the more personal toll of sleep states altered by the light from our many digital devices.
This points to something deeper beneath Geerk’s characters’ fondness for the snooze alarm. Geerk’s subjects seem unable or unwilling to overcome their sleep-inducing boredom—and it would seem boredom rather than, say, working class domestic woes, that is responsible for such elegant persons snoozing on various tabletops. Each figure’s deliberateness of pose further suggests an awareness of being watched. Beneath the bouffant in Table Portrait III, an eye peeks open. Voyeurism is then perhaps each work’s secondary pose, more a compositional subtlety than an active state.
Though the (albeit contorted) glamour of Geerk’s peculiar subjects beckons questions of leisure, their figuration—isolated, half-asleep, and wholly imagined (the artist does not paint from models, or photographs)—points to painting as a false image, if not a romanticized exaggeration. Ultimately, his works here circle back to the perennial question of an individual’s interior unknowability, particularly under the lens of portraiture. Geerk’s odd mixture of the deliberate and the casual adds a subtle, dual-pronged wrinkle to the familiarity of a portrait. His portrayals of beautiful exhaustion suggest abundance, as indexed to class, and to a less chic, spoiled contemporary reality.
Lenz Geerk: The Table Portraits runs September 8–October 13, 2018 at Roberts Projects (5801 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, CA 90232)