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Back to Reviews 97

Untitled, (Pandemic), 

Shirt, 1996 

Sublieutenant, 1995

Anatomy and 
Fascism, 1997 

kevin larmon

at curt marcus

by Mia Fineman

Kevin Larmon came of age in the East Village '80s, exhibiting his speculative, subtly abstracted still-lifes at the former Nature Morte Gallery. Now living in self- imposed exile in upstate New York, he has produced an idiosyncratic body of work that explores the gray area between figuration and abstraction.

Larmon's new mixed-medium paintings at Curt Marcus Gallery are like intimate archeological sites embedded with private meanings and half-buried objects of desire. He begins each painting with a collage of pornography (of the gay male variety) which he then covers with layer upon layer of paint, varnish and other incidental materials (scraps of cloth, drops of blood, hair, thread) resulting in a bumpy, blistery, skin-like surface. Filmy white veils of paint are spread over loose skeins of gestural pencil lines that circle back on themselves; erotically charged fragments of bodies (a finger, a penis, a bellybutton) sporadically emerge through the translucent layers.

On one level, the paintings read as lush, though rather esoteric organic abstractions, but Larmon's use of a hidden pornographic substratum forces the Freudian question: Are these paintings about sexual repression? And the answer, I think, is no. These smallish, often square canvases have a sensual immediacy and intimate physicality that often recall some of Robert Ryman's smaller works. If Larmon's seductive, lovingly worked surfaces conceal more blatantly erotic imagery, the effect is closer to striptease than to censorship.

The thematic content of the paintings is similarly recondite, sometimes hinted at in the titles, sometimes not. Anatomy and Fascism draws an intuitive parallel between the idealization of the male body and the culture of fascism, incorporating photographs of Mussolini's neoclassical Olympic stadium outside of Rome. Shirt features an embedded scrap of red flannel, an allusion to the coded uniform of Christopher Street cruisers in the late '70s (when Larmon first arrived in New York). In Untitled (Pandemic) the subject is weightier and the symbolism more overt--pasted-on letters spelling out the word "pandemic" are surrounded by stains of dried blood.

The pencil drawings on wood in the small gallery look like Larmon's paintings with a few layers of crusty skin peeled off. The forms are biomorphic and protean (like something a Surrealist might dream) and they're precisely rendered with a fluid, eloquent line.

MIA FINEMAN is a New York writer.