kon trubkovich has painted ronald reagan over and over for his new show
The Brooklyn artist discusses memory in the digital age as he preps for his upcoming show of paintings of Reagan.
"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" Even those of us who doodled our way through world history will surely be aware of those famous words uttered by U.S. President Ronald Reagan during his 1987 Brandenburg Gate speech. We know New York-based artist Kon Trubkovich certainly is.
Trubkovich's latest solo show, House of the Rising Sun, opening this Saturday at OHWOW Gallery in Los Angeles, is comprised of 6 larger-than-life paintings culled from a larger body of 24 works based off of 24 consecutive frames (making up one second) of Reagan's infamous address. Trubkovich's industrial Brooklyn Navy Yard adjacent studio is filled with the oversized canvases bearing the President's pixelated face, some completed and resting peacefully in storage shelves, and others still in progress, sitting on large wooden easels. The artist's assistants meticulously attend to the works in progress with thin paintbrushes soaked in oil paint.
Given his extensive body of work, Trubkovich has come a long way in a short amount of time. The artist became somewhat of an overnight success in 2006 when curator Neville Wakefield plucked him from obscurity and gave him a solo show at MoMA P.S.1 at the age of 26. "I was really ambitious, but no one was giving me the time of day!" Trubkovich said of his early days. "I didn't really have anything going on...I was really lucky." Since then, Trubkovich has honed his television static aesthetic and shown internationally in cities from Milan to Moscow.
While Trubkovich is quick to acknowledge his more recent work's obvious political commentary, he is just as quick to clarify the work's true intentions. "I don't want [the paintings] to be confused with political imagery," Trubkovich cautioned. "It's not about the politics as it happens to do with my life…It's my life that has to do with politics."
And Trubkovich certainly has much to draw on from his own political history, whether it's his days as a club kid in downtown New York City, or his family's decision to immigrate to the United States from their home in Russia when the artist was just 11 years old, an emotional choice that led to a similar series of paintings by Trubkovich of his mother that run parallel to his Reagan portraits. "I imagine these two seconds happening simultaneously: My mother looking up, Reagan looking up…My mother deciding to move to America, Reagan deciding to say this line."
But whether Trubkovich's memories are personal (in the case of his mother) or part of a collective consciousness (in the case of Reagan), they are ultimately intangible and fleeting. "The main thing that I want to get across with the work is this feeling of memory and forgetting. With the Reagan image, when you see it repeated so serially, it loses its meaning as an image, and it becomes a painting of memory. It's not necessarily about the meaning of the images, it's about a stripping of meaning and allowing the physicality of it to become form."
The 5-channel video that Trubkovich will display alongside his Reagan paintings further expands on the artist's fascination with interpreting memory. Made up of internet videos of Russians singing "House of the Rising Sun" that have been transferred onto film stock, then digitized once again, the work is eerie, yet beautifully calming. "It's one of these iconic, amazing songs that I grew up with," Trubkovich explained. "It doesn't have an author. It's this song without any kind of home. I always thought that that was interesting, and suddenly all of these people singing it in my language…I found the whole thing to be amazing in the sense that there was this making of meaning. It's exactly what I was thinking about with the paintings."
"Who are we as humans or individuals without the collective knowledge?" Trubkovich continued. "I don't know if I'm trying to preserve or not preserve, I'm just trying to have a human experience in the studio."
House of the Rising Sun runs from January 17 to February 14. OHWOW Gallery, 937 N. La Cienega Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90069
Text Clarke Rudick