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Mingling Polarities: The refreshingly weird world of Tom Monson 

Tom Monson wears his art on his sleeve.

click to enlarge Monson at work.
  • Monson at work.
Monson at work.
He is a postmodern scavenger, in his words "projecting value onto something un-valuable, like redemptions." Tom turns kitschy thrift store finds into gems by adding bittersweet Maurice Sendak style characters, often placing them in grievous situations in a humorous way. In "slogan" a small plaque's original saccharine image is over painted with a simply drawn nude that stares blankly at the viewer, his arm severed on the floor Monty Python style, the words "Win Some, Lose Some" fade into the background behind him. These altered appropriations confront universal emotions, but are also unabashedly autobiographical. Monson's show at the PoetHouse last November called "Images that Breethe, frum thawts that bur^rn" (misspelling intentional) presented pieces that dealt blatantly with betrayal, hypocrisy and grief. In one piece, "Untitled," a bright red snake is hacked in pieces and bleeding, X's for eyes.

Unsettling, especially when one realizes the snake is painted on top of the artist's marriage certificate. Monson realizes that his work knocks the viewer of guard. Grinning, he admits, "I'm familiar with social discomfort. I'm also not afraid of it."

While Monson seems to enjoy pointing out a room's elephant, he never does so maliciously. While cruelty may be part of his subject matter, there is a sensitivity in his pieces. From the delicately intricate penciled figures to the artist's contemplation of language and phonetics, his naive script allows these bloody, heartbroken, devastating pieces to remain approachable and beautiful.

"It's about communication to facilitate expression between myself and the viewer. If I put something articulate up on the wall, I'm assuming that it helps the viewer. Melancholy appreciation of beauty is kinda what it comes down to. At this point in my life, it feels more rich because of the appreciation and creation," Monson says.

Opposite his tiny appropriations, Monson's canvases and murals are a counterpoint, referencing the mode of the swilling, swaggering abstract expressionist crowd; Rothko is cited as a major influence concerning the "unsettled spiritual aspect of his work," but Toms paintings technically hint of Bay Area painters like Richard Diebenkorn and Elmer Bischoff in both his Pacific-flavored palette and his thick, gestural brush strokes, which makes sense knowing this Minnesota boy graduated from Azusa Pacific University. His large paintings display bulbous forms that evoke molecules, flowers, breasts and meteors. His more abstract work seems at first glance reflexive and messy, but by spending time discussing the work with the artist, one realizes he speaks like he paints- articulately and purposefully, but by no means removed.

"My work is passionate but logical. The logic facilitates the passion," he says. Large gestural orbs morph into finely rendered molecular structures with meditative care. It's a balancing act that Tom realizes-the typical struggle between passion and reason, the authentic and the intentional. Monson clearly plays Red Rover with these opposites, forcing the polarities to mingle.


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