The idea behind Moscow-born Jewish artist Kon Trubkovich’s upcoming show at Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York is at once simple and complicated, which is often, and certainly in this case, a good thing for an idea.
The idea, as described in Trubkovich’s excitable but considered delivery, “is basically snow.” In practice, this translates to a series of paintings of snowy skies rendered in muted shades of sunset or sunrise, the result of a process that involves filming a snowy day, photoshopping the results with drawn-on snowflake smudges, and then painting the outcome. That’s the simple part, one that was inspired, the artist says, by thinking about “the earliest memories, the most sort of difficult to access memories, childhood stuff… about snow, morning, kind of waking up and seeing snow.”
The complicated part has to do with Trubkovich’s longstanding interest in TV static — the moment when a scene is frozen on a VHS tape, obscured but highlighted by randomly patterned imperfections. This translates, in his best work, into a mixture of the crisply clear and the inchoate, one dissolving into the other with no clear boundaries.
This is the first time Trubkovich has made the snow literal. And so the crux of “Snow,” Trubkovich’s third solo show at Boesky, is the layering of meanings, “of the snow being the television static that’s obscuring the images, and then the snow being the actual image.”
Aside from the “snow” paintings, the show incorporates three paintings of Trubkovich’s mother, a few drawings that suggest self-portraiture, and a three-minute video.
Trubkovich, whose manner is genial and direct, explained these works deal with the interplay of personal significance and universality, of individual memory and the collective unconscious. (He is, despite that description, neither New Age-y nor pretentious.)
The images of his mother, for example, taken from footage shot during the goodbye party the artist’s parents gave before the family left Moscow for the United States in 1990, show her at the age Trubkovich is now, which is “this strange synchronicity that [he’s] been sort of living a lot.” The drawings, though they look uncannily like Trubkovich, actually depict Lenny Bruce. (“I like the idea that it is me, because I say it’s a self-portrait, but it’s not me, because the image comes from another person.”)
And the video is distilled from 50-some hours of film shot by a family friend; Trubkovich’s wife, Alexandra Butler, a writer and poet, aptly describes the edited video as “trying to conjecture up the feeling of waking up when you are very little and going to the door and seeing through the cracked door your parents doing something or people over and having that sense of being a child removed from everything looking through a keyhole.” (His wife’s poems often provide painting titles, such as “If you can take the hot lead enema then you can cast the first stone,” for a 2012 painting of purple static.)