Like many mortals, Llyn Foulkes has a ongoing fascination with death. Over a long and varied artistic career, Foulkes’ fixation has manifested itself both blatantly—as in his series of paintings depicting exploding heads—and more subtly—as in a sculptural work featuring an empty chair discovered in an abandoned schoolhouse.
In Foulkes’ stunning retrospective exhibition at the New Museum, morbid images are accented by the artist’s pervasive and dark sense of humor. Characters appropriated from the comic books and films Foulkes enjoyed as a child are repurposed to make playful jabs at our society’s shortcomings. A chronological exploration through decades of work, the exhibition is indicative of an artist unwilling to rest on his laurels. Foulkes reinvents himself every few years, seamlessly transitioning from precise paintings of rock formations to visceral, gory portraits, to playful, three-dimensional tableaux starring a devious Mickey Mouse.
At the start of the exhibit is a film of Foulkes operating “The Machine,” an instrument that he invented consisting of a tangle of horns and pipes. As one takes in Foulke’s typically cynical canon, the image of his sunny performance lingers and, somehow, even a bloody stump where a head once was does not seem so bleak.
“LLYN FOULKES” IS ON VIEW AT THE NEW MUSEUM THROUGH SEPTEMBER 1.