Jay Walker’s clothes-sans-bodies spook up James Oliver Gallery.
Jay Walker’s sartorial paintings, drawings and sculpture at James Oliver Gallery don’t exactly make for a cheery show, but Second Skin is worth a visit. His monochrome, life-sized depictions of empty hoodies, Matrix-like dusters, a hospital gown and a bride’s dress against voidlike backgrounds have a feel of isolation and vulnerability—the hooded jackets in particular call to mind the Mourners, shrouded medieval tomb sculptures shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last winter.
Walker, 28, is an accomplished artist with a master’s from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts who could have luxuriated in painting clothing with flourishes like the old masters. But this drab drapery is not about the cloth or even the idea of comfort or beauty. The show is about the animating spirit—the clothing sans bodies eerily suggests bodies sans souls. Why so mournful?
“I’m hopeful and pessimistic,” Walker said at the opening.
Three years ago, Walker left the security of a full-time teaching job to work in the studio, and around the same time needed hospital care. That encounter with mortality coupled with his own leap from security into the artistic void might explain the dark aesthetic.
Many of the newer works in the show, like the oil painting “David Tripp II,” surround the object portrayed—in this case a duster coat—with thick white atmospheric paint suggesting a kind of saintliness or ascendence. For all its hulking threat, the duster is like a religious icon.
Walker is a Texas native who grew up near the Mexican border (he says he feels more comfortable eating Mexican food than American food), and I wondered if his experience of Mexican retablos and Day of the Dead imagery influenced his dark, ghostly and somewhat religious-seeming style. He says no, but a show featuring Cheech Marin’s collection of Chicano art was an early influence.
“Thiebaud’s Jacket,” a modest-sized work on paper made with layers of colored tape, is one of the best in the show. Walker says Wayne Thiebaud, whose cake, pie and gumball paintings are icons of our consumerist culture, has been an influence. The black jacket, shown with the hood up as if there’s a spook hiding inside, makes one uneasy, yet there’s play and sensuality here, too. The layered red, yellow, blue, black and white strips of tape sometimes twist and crinkle with unexpected textures.
Walker, who says he loves working with tape and has 60 different varieties, enters a different zone when he uses the sticky consumer product. Look forward to further developments, especially when they involve tape.
Jay Walker: Second Skin
Through Dec. 4.
James Oliver Gallery,
723 Chestnut St., 4th floor.