Leon Golub, ALARMED DOG ENCOUNTERING PINK!, 2004. Oil stick and ink on Bristol. 8 x 10 inches. All images: Art © Estate of Leon Golub/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photograph by Cathy Carver.
The current show at the Drawing Center in New York exhibits 43 drawings and works on paper by Leon Golub made between the years 1999 and his death in 2004. Golub is primarily known for his visceral large-scale paintings of war, torture, and the darker side of humanity. The drawings however, display a different side to Golub’s art making process, and reflect the range of his interests–satyrs, sex, animals, classical art, death, and graffiti all appear in these late drawings.
In his later years, it became increasingly difficult for Golub to paint on such a large scale, and beginning in 1997, he began to make many small scale drawings covering more personal subject matters. Golub’s painted works start with an under drawing in chalk or graphite, which he then covered with thick layers of paint. As a final step, Golub would tear away at the painted layers using a variety of implements to achieve a highly textured surface. The works on paper are made in a very different manner; as opposed to the building up of a thick surface, the works are made with oil stick and ink washes on 8 x 10 inch bristol board or vellum. Golub would often create the backgrounds for his drawings separately (examples of which are on display), and he would then add the subject matter at a much later date. Instead of adapting the rough, somewhat linear texture of his paintings to the works on paper, the drawings use an entirely different set of artistic actions of smears, drips, washes, and monochromatic linear elements with touches of highlights.
The process of creating the drawings essentially combine three disparate elements: the abstract background as a discrete visual element, the subject matter which is usually culled from Golub’s extensive collection of organized ephemera and magazine clippings (also on display in a vitrine), and finally, the title, which Golub usually took from snippets of overheard conversations, news headlines, or graffiti slogans. These aspects are then contextualized into playful, fragments of metaphorical scenes. It is this fragmented and indeterminate nature that prompts resolution through the use of metaphorical interpretation. For instance, A Sentimental Story (2003) depicts a dog set in a white ground. The addition of the title scrawled in large letters, colors our interpretation of the scene into the metaphoric realm–dog as companion, as loyalty, as hunter. As art historian Eduardo Cadava states in the catalogue essay, “…the dog tells us what is true of all of Golub’s figures: none of them are ever only themselves.”
In addition to metaphorical interpretation, works like Gunman Caught in Red Abstraction! Situation Could be Serious! (2002), Post Modernist Bimbo (2002), and What a Bore! (2003) reflect Golub’s dry sense of humor about sex and art history. Other works show highly sexualized satyrs, and still others in the exhibit are about confronting death. Variants on each theme are on display as well, inviting open-ended interpretations. Brett Littman, curator of the exhibition, organized the works according to color as opposed to theme, which unites the works as group, as well as capitalizes on Golub’s unique color palette.
Leon Golub, HERE’S TO YOU PAL!, 2002. Oil stick on Bristol. 10 x 8 inches.
Leon Golub, POST MODERNIST BIMBO, 2002. Oil stick and ink on vellum. 10 x 8 inches.
Leon Golub was born in Chicago in 1922 and studied art history at the University of Chicago. He later received an M.F.A. in 1950 from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and married artist Nancy Spero in 1951. After a brief period of living in Paris with Spero in 1959, they moved back to New York in 1964 where he remained until the end of his life. The exhibition will travel to the Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, and then to The Museum Her Domein, Sittard, Netherlands.
The Drawing Center [Exhibition Website]
Leon Golub Panel Discussion [The Drawing Center]
Peter Schjeldahl “The Art World Beasts” [The New Yorker]
Karen Rosenberg Review [The New York Times]
His Bark is Worse than His Bite [Wall Street Journal]