Cindy Tower at Bruno David Gallery
Early this month, “Decadense,” a survey of recent paintings by Cindy Tower, opened at Bruno David Gallery. The show features nine new paintings by the former Washington University professor, all of them centered on a theme close to the heart of St. Louis: urban decay. Tower’s canvases feature scenes of dilapidated and disregarded factory interiors, forgotten and sprawling, overgrown with their own deterioration. And yet the paintings lack the depreciated post-industrial lethargy we might normally expect from the topic.
There’s an uncanny sense of punk rock and painterly joy clinging to the canvases, more a celebration of material and process than a commentary on atrophy. Her choice of subject matter seems to be more formal than conceptual: What better subject for a painter of sprawling dense brushstrokes is there than a sprawling dense environment? Yet the lack of conceptual congruity between the paintings and their subject matter at times feels disheartening. They’re just a little too wonky for me to consider them social commentary. Although I’m sure the paintings are trying to tell me, I’m still curious what Tower thinks about post-industrial society.
To make these images, Tower and her bodyguard (who is featured in one of the paintings) trespass into condemned buildings around East St. Louis where she paints the decrepit interiors, sometimes in the company of “wild dogs, crack addicts and homeless residents,” says her artist’s statement. Tower’s approach can be characterized by an obsessive speed. Her strokes have a sense of immediacy and vitality, a seemingly natural byproduct of the time constraints of her process: She must finish each canvas before the site is demolished—a deadline she has not always met.
While the paintings may not be serving any apparent theoretical ends per se, there’s an inexplicably interesting tension between the mechanical subject matter and the organic, *orgiastic* paint handling. The images have more of a feeling of bodily processes than mechanical ones. The tension resulting from these two juxtaposed elements provides justification for the otherwise unhip and outdated practice of plein air painting. Are these the landscape paintings of a post-industrial era?
“Decadense” is up at Bruno David Gallery until May 8. The gallery is located at 3721 Washington Blvd. in the Grand Center arts district, directly opposite the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts and the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. Also on show at the gallery are works by Nanette Boileau and Dickson Beall.