March 12, 2020–May 15, 2020
by Serubiri Moses
Salon 94 Bowery announces Pucker Up, an exhibition of Timothy Washington’s wondrous, ethereal sculptural figures and totems. This will be the Los Angeles-based assemblage artist‘s first solo show on the East Coast to date, and will span sixty years of his practice. Alongside rare, early work from the 60’s and 70’s, there will be a constellation of his legendary polychromatic figures bedecked and bejeweled with ephemera culled from life. Figurative memory-wares, each personage is an active teller—and producer—of a specific story and subjective experience.
Pucker Up comes at the heels of Citizen/Ship, Washington’s solo exhibition at the California African American Museum, Los Angeles which featured a psychedelic, sound-filled installation drawing on Afrofuturistic narratives of fantasy and science fiction. In 2014, Washington was praised in Artforum for Love Thy Neighbor, his solo exhibition at the Craft and Folk Art Museum, Los Angeles which featured an “inextricability of art and craft, using street detritus, Christian imagery, and warped, alien-like human forms to question the relationships between humanity, spirituality, and the cosmos.”
Washington’s sculptures are unabashedly handcrafted and together are a celebration of play, both literally and figuratively. Washington’s forms are made by sculpting glue-saturated cotton around wire armatures that, once dry, create a hardened, textured encasement. After painting—often in his favored purple or turquoise green—these works are decidedly spangled with found objects collected from his neighborhood over many years, oftentimes culled from family and friends. Intimate effects, including pieces of jewelry, dishware, and toys are strategically placed and meaningfully grouped to engender particular readings and sightlines. Several Faces, One Race (Male Figure), 2009, includes a small mirror at average head height, which brings the viewer’s face into the composition of the work. Pucker Up, 2008, includes smiling toy faces embedded in the sculptures at knee height—generously giving alternate focal points for children. Influenced by the Kapok Tree, 2009, is a massive sculpture assembled from various media including kitchen timers—the sculpture is set to go off at various surprise moments throughout the exhibition!
Growing up in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, Timothy Washington’s childhood placed him in close proximity to the Watts Towers, which, as a child, he and his brothers would boldly climb. Washington’s investigation of the seventeen monumental, interconnected mosaic towers was at once architectural, visual, and formal and serves as a lasting and important touchstone. Washington was nineteen years old when the Watts Riots shook his neighborhood; the rebellion that was felt across the nation has influenced his life and work to date. For his entire career since the riots, Washington has sought to combine disparate elements into coherent wholes.
Timothy Washington studied at the Chouinard Art Institute with Charles White, alongside fellow artist David Hammons. Washington’s work has long been associated with others in the Black Arts Movement—the aesthetic and social sibling to the Black Power Movement—as well as those catalyzed by the Watts rebellion of 1965 including Noah Purifoy, Betye Saar, John Outterbridge, and John Riddle. Many of these artists, like Washington, came to create artworks repurposing debris from burnt and destroyed buildings, recovering the rubble from their homes and environments at large.
In the decades since his youth, Washington has become more sensitive to the relationships between materials, as well as what he refers to as the “liveliness” of objects: “When I had an etching class, the plate seemed much more fascinating to me than the print itself. And I wondered about boundaries in art. Why should the plate be considered something to use to make a paper print when I loved the plate so much more? The plate said so much more to me because it had me with it.” Washington is as known for his graphic and pictorial works— which include mixed-media collages, metal etchings and drypoints, paintings, and drawings on paper—as he is the volumetric sculptures: his object-based processes accrued from the material process of sculpture inform the creation of his visual works. Across media—and across decades—Washington’s works produce new meanings and messages indiscriminately, unearthly-inspirited, and with intentions bold and elusive alike.