Llyn Foulkes Retrospective at Hammer Museum

Posted by


The Lost Frontier, 1997-2005. Mixed mediums. 87 x 96 x 8 in. (221 x 243.8 x 20.3 cm). Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.  Photo by Randel Urbauer.

It is a stunning Llyn Foulkes retrospective up now through May 19, 2013 at the Hammer Museum  in Los Angeles. If you’ve seen the exhibition, then you’ve discussed it with others, and perhaps you’ve liked the email and the frequent threads on Facebook.

In a recent conversation with me, Foulkes said that The Lost Frontier (shown above),

is the deepest painting I’ve done.

This painting is among the artist’s later works that wrestle with visual depth, almost a subject matter in itself.  Foulkes also provides a clear narrative that confronts such complex issues as lost innocence, and the wisdom that comes with a well-developed awareness of cultural signposts and corporate context.  Foulkes’ surface  is resoundingly rendered through a careful and considered application of layers of real material, not only paint.

Light works differently

reflected from a variety of materials giving a true depth to the picture, says Foulkes, creating a realistic space.

I asked a few friends with valued opinions for their comments on the work and show. Mat Gleason, director at Coagula Curatorial, summed it up clearly, in way that I wish I could have written. His superb sound bite:

Llyn’s work succeeds by being accessible. His subject is the human condition. You do not need to be initiated into some cliquish art world academic institution to understand and appreciate it. There is simply an amazing talented investigating deep emotion states of the individual struggling for purpose in our degraded democracy.

The Hammer’s director Ann Philbin is quoted in the press release as saying that the retrospective for Llyn Foulkes is “long overdue,” but the it’s-about-time crowd around the current exhibition should not minimize the significant art world successes enjoyed by one of  L. A.’s finest artists and mentors. Foulkes has not been overlooked.

Llyn Foulkes was selected as a representative American artist for Documenta 13, 2012, a rare honor.  Held every five years in various venues throughout Kassel, Germany, Documenta (13) is one of the world’s most important exhibitions reflective of development in international contemporary art.

Another sprig of laurel for a living artist is being selected as one of only a few American artists for the Venice Biennale, as Foulkes was for the 54th  held in 2011. The Venice Biennale  began in 1895 as an important world venue for viewing contemporary art. Other Americans included with Foulkes in the most recent exhibition were Cindy Sherman, James Turrell, and Jack Goldstein. (Participant Guy de Cointet , chosen for France, was selected too; he moved to L. A.  in the late 1960s and lived, worked, and died in L.A. in 1980s.)

In 1967, Foulkes was distinguished by his selection as a Young Talent Award winner by the Modern and Contemporary Art Council of the Los Angeles County Art Museum, resulting in an early-career LACMA purchase of his work.

We expect great things from an artist with these credentials, as we expect a fine retrospective.  With Llyn Foulkes, we are not disappointed.

Writes exhibition curator Ali Subotnick

The work is raw, haunting, and at times shocking but deeply moving and personal.

Karrie Ross, an artist, commented via Facebook on Foulkes’ newer work where he is

sculpting images on the canvas/board, creating the 2-3D aspect. Next it’s into the dark room ‘life’ scene, his sharing of complete stories, and then the behind-the-scenes dialogue of political and social commentary as seen and experienced by him.” And now us.


Llyn Foulkes. The Awakening, 1994-2012. Mixed mediums. 40 1/4 x 44 x 7

The Awakening, 1994-2012. Mixed mediums. 40 1/4 x 44 x 7

In his most recent paintings, memory and material mix. My favorite work, the riveting The Awakening, was the picture selected for Documenta 13 last year.  This is not the work of one with a normal mind. This work is odd.  Foulkes’ work is sometimes described as post-apocalyptic and that is a sense of what I came away with. I found it to be filled with a familiar terror. He’s ahead somehow.

The Awakening is a masterwork painting—the picture gives us a poet’s blend of material and subject matter with a good fuzzying-up of boundaries. Foulkes, a native of Washington, studied painting at Chounaird and later taught at UCLA and Art Center College.

Dark Bob of the 1970s performance pair Bob and Bob was a student of Foulkes at Art Center College in 1974-75. Dark Bob says in an email,

I had Llyn as a painting teacher, but he didn’t really teach ‘painting,’ not the way [Richard] Diebenkorn or [Lorser] Feitelson taught painting; Llyn provoked his students to go beyond technique and formalism and look for an ‘inner voice.’

Funny thing is, Llyn is a brilliant painter, craftsman and formalist–and maybe because all that comes easy to him–that’s why he is always looking for the context beneath his amazing surfaces.

The Llyn Foulkes retrospective was organized and is written about by Hammer Museum curator Ali Subotnick. The show will travel to the New Museum in New York, and the Museum Kurhaus Kleve in Germany later this year.


Llyn Foulkes. Rose Hill, 1964. Oil on canvas. 65 x 108 in. (165.1 x 274.3 cm). Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Modern and Contemporary Art Council, New Talent Purchase Award (M.67.11). Digital image © 2012 Museum Associates / LACMA. Licensed by Art Resource, NY.

Rose Hill, 1964. Oil on canvas. 65 x 108 in. (165.1 x 274.3 cm). Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Modern and Contemporary Art Council, New Talent Purchase Award (M.67.11). Digital image © 2012 Museum Associates / LACMA. Licensed by Art Resource, NY.



February 3-May 19, 2013 

Hammer Museum

10899 Wilshire Blvd (at Westwood Blvd), West Los Angeles




Leave a Reply