Where Mr. Hodges’s boulders are silent—mysterious dinosaur heads on inscrutable business of their own—for the stubbornly figurative Los Angeles painter Llyn Foulkes, rocks serve as a powerful compromise between the tension-generating constraints of figuration and the symbolic potentials of abstraction. In advance of a major retrospective of the painter’s work planned for UCLA’s Hammer Museum in early 2013, Andrea Rosen Gallery has mounted a small, tightly focused study of his paintings of rocks.
Lost Horizon (1991) shows the head and shoulders of an anxious older man in a thick sweater climbing over a ridge. A “For Sale” sign, a small American flag and a crushed beer or soda can rest at the foot of a tall, straight tree trunk. Behind the man, a series of surreal mountain ridges, the closest shaped into a grim, Lincoln-like face, recede into a flat blue sky; a cruciform seagull, carefully cut from another painting, is blown weirdly backward. It’s important to note that the mountains’ paint has a sticky tactility, while the white clouds look like the first, lethargic strokes of a housepainter; that the can is a real can; and that the tree trunk and the man’s head, built up with modeling paste, project out from the canvas. Eagle Rock (1984), showing the outline of an eagle above a broad gray peak, also plays with the distinction between foreground and background, earth and heaven, night and day, spattering the mountain with drops of sky-blue paint. Shadow and color are blended in a disconcerting way that makes the mountain look like a photogram of blue jeans.
Happy Rock (1969) is a monochrome green painting of a strangely shaped rock, something like a little girl’s dress, with a perfectly circular cutout or superimposed disc. It begins with the way we project our own psychologies onto the world around us, the uneasy give-and-take between found and made beauty, and the close but fundamentally alienated relationship between texture and shape—and it goes on from there.