Setting the Tone
A Primeval Llyn Foulkes
“Sometimes I feel like one of the last individuals, I really do.” —Llyn Foulkes
Engaging chameleonic change as a practice in its own right, artist and musician Llyn Foulkes (b. 1934) is a manifestly Los Angeles artist. “I didn’t belong any place else,” Foulkes reflected in 1997, “I mean, I always had such deep feelings about Los Angeles.” Born in Washington, Foulkes moved to Los Angeles in 1957 after a stint in the military, attending the Chouinard Art Institute until 1959; his first solo exhibition was held at Ferus Gallery in 1961. Foulkes painted lot 99, simply titled T, during this early period of recognition, prior to the many pivots that would come to characterize his creative trajectory. The atypical T-shaped canvas is a textured abstraction, its surface appearing smeared away, and, upon closer inspection, alternately cracked, splattered, and incised with hard-to-decipher lettering.
As Thomas Micchelli wrote on the occasion of Foulkes’ major retrospective in 2013: “The neo-Dada/neo-Kienholz/neo-Rauschenberg/black/brown/gray matter of his debut efforts is absolutely nothing like the mordant, hyper-illusionistic tableaux…that the artist started making in 1983.” And so what? While it was the works created in the 1980s and later (including lot 100, Now is the Time), some of which were featured in Paul Schimmel’s seminal “Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990s,” that arguably solidified Foulkes’ reputation, it is a hallmark of the individual to embody contradictions — and to change. Perhaps, in this sense, lot 99 might be considered representative of Foulkes’ primordial phase, a dark and moody void setting the stage for both the pointed cultural critiques and personal mercurialism that would emerge in the decades to follow.