For years, Kyle Thurman, 36, has made work examining our cultural imagination’s propensity towards defaulting to violence, and the egregious lack of emotional vocabulary that runs concurrent with it. Such was the seed for his long-running series “Suggested Occupations,” drawings from which were shown at the Whitney in 2019. In “Parade,” Thurman’s second solo-show with David Lewis Gallery, which opens in New York today, September 9, the artist debuts three new bodies of work that develop new languages to further explore this conversation.
In his “Dream Police” series, Thurman paints solitary figures in militarized, superhero-esque battle suits. The works point towards our misguided inclination to harden ourselves in the face of conflicts that would, more often than not, be better resolved if met with love. “Why is the natural impulse to armor oneself, or to accept conflict as the inevitable reality?” he says to me, discussing the new series. “These works extract a very specific symbol from popular culture to ask questions of this reality more broadly. These fantasy body armors are like exoskeletons that illustrate these desires for control and power, and the fantasy for the human body to have the power to endure repeated conflict. I want to ask what the dreams are that require this physical and psychic armoring that's so seemingly prevalent.”
The armor that these figures wear is modeled from open-source, 3-D printing files designed and used by superhero fans to make their own faux-battlesuits. “In the early months of the pandemic, like most people I was spending a lot of time on social media, and this kind of fandom of people who 3-D print and customize their own fantasy body armor started to flood my algorithm. I became obsessed with the amount of time and labor that these people were putting into their fantasy armor suits,” he explains. “I came across open-source websites where people were uploading the 3-D printing files to share their variants of these lifesize, printable body armor suits. I started to download the files and use them in 3-D modeling software on my computer, and I composed what would evolve from a digital file into the large-scale paintings that are in the exhibition.”
Paintings from Thurman’s “Diary” series, the second in the three new bodies of work, appear to be in more direct lineage to “Suggested Occupations.” They recall them visually—in both series, figures float in and out of abstraction, as well as appearing in various stages of completeness—and present throughout is a recurrent sense of melancholy, no doubt a byproduct of a culture that trains men to shield themselves against emotional intelligence.
Three bronze additional sculptures on view—part of the third series titled “Crowns”—take their shape from amateur diagrams designed to illustrate the emotional processes that arise in the face of social conflict. Entangling multiple emotional responses together, Thurman created these small, web-like forms that explore the emotive process and carry the metaphor of how we oversimplify emotions—how we disregard the paradox that every emotion contains nearly all the others, that joy carries within it sorrow, that anger carries shame, and so on. As Thurman puts it, “Artworks that have had a lasting impact on the way I see or think about the world often ask questions in the face of contradictions.”
"Parade" is on view at David Lewis Gallery from September 9 to October 22, 2022 at 57 Walker Street, New York, New York.