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Spoon Popkin

A detail from Spoon Popkin's installation "The Ballad Of Sharon And Zebedee"

By Robbie Whelan | Posted 4/19/2006

Spoon Popkin

At Goucher College’s Rosenberg Gallery through April 28

An artist who works with “found art” is obliged to blur the lines between curator and artiste, which can either diminish the authenticity of his or her exhibitions or broaden his or her capacity for expression, depending on how you look at it. Spoon Popkin’s solo show, which spans the past six years of the artist’s career and is on display at Goucher College’s Rosenberg Gallery, has the latter result on the viewer—her found art gives intelligent yet visceral context to the original, expressive paintings she pairs with it.

The show has four parts, really. The first, placed right in front of the double-doors that lead into the gallery, is a set of 38 black and white charcoal portrait drawings, each about 12 by 15 inches, meant to look like a massive college yearbook (a few of the square spaces say no photo available). All of the faces, dated by a few bouffants on the women and Brylcreemed side parts on the men, are gaunt, with collapsed, high-boned cheeks. Many have sunken Steve Buscemi eyes. A few are just simple outlines of features. It’s the graduating class of desolation.

Another wall is lined with old eight-track players painted over in white, perched on pedestals beneath creepy oil paintings of massively up-close children’s faces, smiling demonically (these kids are not at all cute). Another wall shows a set of Warholesque stencils of an angry-looking poodle, reprinted and reversed in square boxes with spray paint in different colors.

The meat of the show, however, is the right-hand side of the gallery, where Popkin has placed an entire wall of found art in the midst of her own jarring paintings to create a nightmarish landscape of psychological associations. On the left are a series of watercolors that look like half-completed studies. Fragmented images of statuesque, dismembered torsos, bloated, floating baby faces, and mouths locked in deep kisses are arranged irregularly. All of these images are highly sensual and sexually charged. Popkin’s painting has a sense of raw urgency to it, as if these studies, if completed and painted cleanly, would be devoid of emotion.

Adjacent is a wall of found objects. “Rapid Memo” sheets with starkly personal messages (“At 2:30 am Zeb asked to use monique’s car after saying that he and I should try harder to help our situation”) hang next to hastily scrawled pleas on a series of pages from a pad advertising Lorabid (a prescription drug used to treat urinary tract infections) that get more frantic as you read each new message: “Your my friend,” “Happy Anniversery,” “Happy Anniversery!!!!!,” “I want you!!!,” “I love you!!!!” There are also several dream diaries describing detailed nightmares, written in impeccable cursive.

These tidbits are joined on the right by a series of 12 large panels that revisit the kissing theme: curvy outlines of chubby faces in black, white, and red, of faces mashed together midkiss. Far away they look like a cloudy sky. Then, to the right of that, the same images of kissing mouths, only blown up by about four times and painted in fleshy reds, peaches, and yellows. These final four kissing panels are the most forthright paintings in the whole show. The mouths, when pressed together, are distorted quite purposefully to look yonic, the lips twisting unnaturally into the shape of labia and clitoris. One panel is even spattered with a dark red over the kissing mouths that cannot be thought of as representational of anything but blood.

Popkin’s kind of art is, in many ways, some of the most satisfying. It strikes a perfect balance between what she is trying to say to her viewers and what she wants us to take from it. It’s a technique that makes a highly effective use of psychological symbols and sexual overtones. As a sort of retrospective, the show is not comprehensively impressive, but you get the impression of Popkin’s dynamic creativity.

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