Blurry portrait

'Llyn Foulkes One Man Band' takes on an inscrutable artist

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Llyn Foulkes and his massive musical sculpture

arts@sfbg.com

FILM Time is money, making both things usually in short supply when it comes to moviemaking. Ergo, a movie that takes forever to make is often a novelty — an extreme conceptual luxury. (On the other hand, movies that never actually get finished are probably more common than you'd expect; there's a whole invisible history of films abandoned mid-production, usually because the money ran out.) This week sees the theatrical release of Richard Linklater's Boyhood, an unusual and by all accounts wonderful experiment shot over a 12-year course, so its actors (particularly Ellar Coltrane's titular youth) could grow older naturally within the story's time span.

Unfortunately, the by-all-accounts wonderfulness of Boyhood didn't screen in time for this particular column — necessitating an attention shift to the Roxie, which just happens to be opening a movie also shot over several years' course. If Boyhood is obviously about life's formative early years, Tamar Halpern and Chris Quilty's Llyn Foulkes One Man Band leaps forward decades to that point where an individual life no longer seems to change very much. Not nearly as much as they'd like, in this case. Foulkes is a veteran of that fabled Los Angeles art scene briefly and famously (albeit mostly in retrospect) centered around the Ferus Gallery. He was such a prodigy he dropped out of the Chouinard Art Institute (now known as CalArts) to go professional, then got kicked out of Ferus for (he says) dissing another, better-entrenched resident "rebel," Bob Irwin.

Of course, no one since approximately 1900 has ever met a "serious" painter who wasn't also a "rebel." After that parting of ways, Foulkes became quite a popular artist for a while via large paintings derived from vintage landscape (in particular, rocks) photography. Such popularity chafed, so he turned toward what he calls his "bloody heads" period, gory portraiture that made his "macabre edge" very plain to anyone who somehow hadn't sussed it already. Suddenly he was no longer the US artist invited to international biennales and handed prestigious prizes. One Man Band follows him some time later (2004-2012, to be exact), when he passes age 70 with no ebbing of lust — for acclaim, that is, for the sales and exhibitions and critical raves he possibly bypassed in "going out of his way to turn his back on the proprieties of the art world," as one bemused observer notes.

We see him prepping for shows that force him into the position he most resists: actually finishing a work. At least that's his problem with two notable pieces. Intense surreal landscape The Lost Frontier was started in 1997. It has grown so thick in places that he's periodically used saw and hammer to excise a section he wants to rework. It duly includes a representation of Mickey Mouse, the pop culture icon he worshipped early on (in high school he'd aimed at working for Disney), then increasingly used as the perfect symbol of all things corrupt, exploitative, and American. A gallery deadline finally forces him to sign off on it, following a typical final frenzy of tinkering all-nighters.

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