By Bettina Funcke for the exhibition brochure for Jonathan Tucker's November-December 2001 solo exhibition at Elizabeth Harris Gallery.
Jonathan Tucker sees himself as a painter, albeit one whose dialogue with the conventions of painting occurs through the use of three-dimensional forms. This duality between sculptural result and painterly method is a clue to the dichotomies of his work. At once referring to the traditional idea of art, the realm of kitsch, and controlled scenery such as rock gardens and terrariums, these pieces embody the Romantic struggle with the ambiguous terrain between nature and culture.
Tucker cites as influences Terry Winters, Jessica Stockholder, and Richard Tuttle. Like him, they are artists who use traditional abstraction against itself. In Tucker's case, the question is whether one is looking at the play of pure form, or at representations of imaginary landscapes. To what do these works refer? The forms themselves are naturalistic: one might be peering through a scanning electron microscope, or, alternately, through a telescope pointed at a distant world.
But perhaps we are zooming instead into a painting. Tucker's works then become partial views of abstract paint-landscapes. The rocks, bacteria, or meteorites become magnified brush strokes and clumps of paint, referring to the spatial and viscous qualities of paint itself, how it is pushed together, dripping, hanging in ropes, covering surfaces.
Tucker's great attention to finishes, glazes, and coloration is the care taken by a representational painter, but also that of a master craftsman finishing a figurine. Indeed, he takes the position of the craftsman or manufacturer: the "rocks" and other shapes are formed of wet modeling paste, which must dry for weeks before the next layer is applied, so the placement of each element must be considered strategically. And yet the work is based on classical painterly themes of composition and color, and each rock formation is actually attached to a canvas hanging on the wall, initially presenting the viewer with a two-dimensional arrangement.
In this way, each piece opposes the naturalistic and the artificial. Found object and crafted object, culture and nature, these are the questions which drive Tucker's work.
Bettina Funcke is a writer and editor based in New York.