Christine Park Gallery is pleased to present Paralipomena - Various underground tales, a solo exhibition featuring ballpoint pen drawings by Tom Poeet.
By concealing his real name, gender, age and nationality, Poeet releases the audience from the social and political implications of the artistic experience. This allows the audience to be immersed in a non-verbal, emotional and enigmatic experience that pierces the subconscious.
Though very limited information is available, we know that he exhibited during the 1950s under a different name. Under a new pseudonym, Tom Poeet returned to the art scene in 2015. Influenced by Surrealists such as Hans Bellmer and Alberto Savinio and the post-structuralist movement that emerged in France at the end of the 20th century, his imagination veers between anatomical dissections and fantastical abstractions of the human form.
This portrait head superimposes exaggerated feminine attributes on an otherwise slender and androgynous looking figure. The viewer is faced with the representation of pouty lips, an elongated neck and enormous eyes outlined by heavy black linework . Persisting in his explorations of people, the artist selectively chooses which features to represent and which to omit, creating a surreal rendition of human anatomy. The two-dimensional, almost photographic rendition of the human face translates Tom Poeet's perception into a new reality. After trying in vain to give an identity to the head, the viewer will come to terms with the fact that this figure is resisting our efforts to trap her within our gaze.
Critical of an art system that is more often than not concerned with identity (and) politics, rather than with the inherent qualities of the art itself, Poeet has chosen to shield his identity, to focus the attention of the viewer only on his art. His drawings, where virtuosity and technical prowess meet a wild imaginative intricacy, are labyrinthic critical devices.
Tom PoeetUntitled (Girl with Mask), circa 2019
Greek mythology abundantly features stories of girls transformed into birdlike creatures. The transformation is often the result of a punishment determined by the gods. According to this narrative, monstrous features match a sickness in the spirit and inspire a sense of horror in the viewer. The lightness of the human form contrasts with the heaviness of the entangled, dense linework in the mask. The pose of the girl seems to suggest that she is turning away from the viewer, almost breaking the fourth wall and inspiring an eerie voyeuristic feeling.
Others are apparently more humane, reassuring and inviting. An attractive girl whose sensual hair evokes Leonardo's famous studies on the topic, where he compares the flow of hair to the shape of water¹ .
She looks cheekily towards the viewer, and she seems to be wearing a mask...but is she? An old man holds his face in a typically pensive manner. His expression is serious, and the roles are reversed as it is him observing, studying us. There are no weird creatures, no anomalies hidden in the lines that time has excavated on his face. He is a "man, paradigm of the monster"² .
1. C. Pedretti, M. Cianchi, Leonardo. I codici, Dossier d’art, Giunti 1995
2. J. R. Wilcock, Il libro dei mostri (“The book of monsters”), Adelphi, 1978
Tom PoeetUntitled (Writer), circa 2019
The drawing demonstrates Tom Poeet’s frenetic interest in the human eyes. The modulation of the lines in the cheekbones imbues a stern righteousness in the subject, who holds his chin with his right hand while staring back at the viewer. The contrast between the heavy lines around the brows and the continuous, softer linework outlining the figure makes the eyes the focal point of the drawing. The mysterious man is not avoiding our gaze. In this drawing, the roles of the observer and the observed are inverted and we, as spectators, become subjected to the gaze of the man, emanating a sense of human vitality.
From a distance, the works may look like traditional drawings falling within the most classical styles of figuration: portraiture, landscape, still life. However, one immediately perceives a sense of uncanniness: a tree that is at the same time more and less than just a tree; a tower hiding something eerie in its very architecture; a figure whose expression is atypical, and possibly malignant.
The composition of this dreamlike abandoned landscape is dominated by the presence of tangled bushes that are impenetrable to the gaze of the viewer. The never-ending mass of branches and roots creates the impression of an all immersive landscape. The technique employed in the linework proves the versatility of the biro as an artistic medium.
When these representations touch the human form, it is easier to relate to their familiar shapes and expressions. A landscape, even the same landscape, can be idyllic or terrifying, depending on the point of view; but it remains something external to us. With portraits, on the other hand, there is empathy.
With Poeet, it is mostly a sense of unease and the sort of enjoyment that comes from very dark humour. Deceptively innocuous characters who, on inspection, reveal themselves as decomposing bidimensional cut-outs, as grotesque caricatures. Some are outright monsters: a profile that could be made of tanned leather, or of cork tree bark; a head pinned to the ground like an anthropomorphic tensile structure; a prognathous cranium becoming a macabre object of decoration when fruits and vegetables start growing out of its scalp (vanitas and still life in one).
Tom PoeetUntitled (Still Life), 2015
By applying unexpected elements to the iconography of the portrait, Tom Poeet's drawings often veer into surreal representations of a fantastical creature. In this work, every line creates a tension that culminates in the absurd representation of a still life on top of a humanoid head. The contrast created by the dynamism of the continuous lines and the inanimate character of the still life leads the viewer to an alternate reality, dominated by hybrid beings and monstrous figures.
Tom PoeetUntitled (Red), 2015
Tom Poeet continues his work of deconstruction of the portrait head. In the drawing, several different elements come together to the shape of a profile. The chin sits on top of a pedestal. Continuous lines outline the mouth and an ear. A hand emerges from the side. The nose is formed by a sharp triangle. On top of the head, an hourglass and a book whisper notions of destiny, fleeting time, wisdom, and science.
The viewer is drawn to look closer. In that moment, the beauty and the bizarre are revealed: a garden of mutating signs, traits that sketch human profiles in one direction while suddenly becoming beastly creatures in the other, revealing portraits within portraits, building mutant architectural landscapes.
A persistent, arduous use of the ballpoint, unforgiving medium, whereby the repetition of the gesture reminiscent of the masters of chiaroscuro gives rise to myriads of creatures, emerging on the surface almost autonomously, independently from the artist's will. The spontaneity of the penwork reveals that there is no project, sketch, or preparatory drawing. The hand is driven by a sort of animalistic instinct. The shapes morph into one another and form, together, an image determined by these elements and at the same time unrelated to them. Like an ecosystem, each figure exists thanks to, but also despite, all its parasites.
The suspended figure in the middle of the work is heavily overlaid by many layers of disparate facial features. The outlines of the faces are undefined and ethereal. The figure seems to be vanishing into thin air thanks to the careful modulation of the linework . The dense linework prevents the viewer from having access to the figure.
Landscapes emerging from faces and vice versa, still life melded with portraiture, architecture stemming from organic forms: the work of Tom Poeet is a journey onto which one must embark with an open mind, ready to receive the many surprises that his mastery and boundless imagination reserve to us along the way.
Tom PoeetUntitled (Lost City), circa 2015
Bearing the influence of Conceptual Art and the legacy of the early masters of ballpoint pen, the artist deconstructs the foundational elements typical of a portrait head. The presence of geometric forms exalts the complexity of the lines. This work is an invitation for the viewer to look closer and observe. The illusory chaos of geometrical shapes and continuous lines gives shape to a human anatomy, while the red and blue details add a layer of subtlety to the drawing.
For press and other inquiries, please contact Margherita Usberti, Associate Director in Exhibitions at Christine Park Gallery at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Artist
Tom Poeet (b. Unknown) keeps his identity shielded. In doing so, he strips the experience of engaging with art from its social and political parameters. Liberated from any preoccupations and distractions from the art, through media coverage, criticism or the press, the anonymous artist forces us to return our focus to the artistic process.
Concentrating primarily on drawing, the artist continually breaks away from the original organic idea (one with a start and finish). Using a path of unpredictable repetition, he gives place to movements that generate difference and push his work in absurd and imponderable directions.
The exhibition is organised in collaboration with Artvisor (www.artvisor.com), a bespoke online art advising service group based in London.
Curatorial statement by Piero Tomassoni of Artvisor.
Descriptions/Commentaries by Margherita Usberti of Christine Park Gallery.