May 28, 2013

The Gatorman Cometh

Or, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Zombie
– the paintings of Todd Bienvenu

Stooges oil on canvas 2013

There is a place in the soul where the profane damns the sacred and swamps it in whisky and crocodile tears. We know the place, it is a rage that spits venom and sorrow in equal doses. It has on the one hand the rudest manners and on the other the tenderest heart. It is that part of us that curses out the world in the worst language, if only to express our yearning for a beauty and kindness that we
miss in the world.

It is not a pretty sight. In the canvases of a painter from Louisiana living and working in the thrall of Bushwick abstractionism, the scene might look like an upturned graveyard in the bayou after a flood. If painting is dead, says Todd Bienvenu, well then, here’s a painting of a zombie.

Zombie oil on small canvas 2013

Spitfire oil on canvas 2013

Spitfire detail

Royal Rumble oil on large canvas 2013

Bienvenu studied at the New York Studio School, he is a protege of Bill Jensen, and for all his low-brow antics, Bienvenu gets that you have to wrap it up, you have to get it right. He gets that you have to give people something to write about. You have to talk to the conversation. His brush slithers and slimes around like a Mississippi mud snake, but his canvas hangs together splendidly. He is an excavator like de Kooning, and he shares that voodoo thing with Basquiat out of the belly of the
American continent.

Trouble oil on canvas 2013

Barf-O-Rama oil on canvas 2013

Wrestling, bordellos, floozies, whisky lanes, death metal concerts in the hinterlands of unemployed America. Chicks so hot they’re ugly. It’s all there. And he simply has an enviable dexterity with paint. He’s the kind of artist who inspires the back-seat driver in the critic. You want to urge him to go this way or that, to see what will happen. At a studio visit I hear myself sounding like Clement Greenberg, “More flat, less depth!” And so on.

James Ensor and Rick Prol also come to mind. Todd Bienvenu regurgitates art historical references, more so than is readily apparent, since these are well digested, not swallowed whole. They are elegant canvases, once you get past the drawl. And some are complex. We get some Cy Twombly and some phases of informal European abstraction, respiratory painting, event painting.

Todd Bienvenu is an exemplary Bushwick painter. He processes a lot, sorts out a lot, I think, for the scene, all the while keeping a casual under-the-radar attitude. Yet he performs quite well the ambitious painter’s job of hitting bases and killing tropes, and this in a crazy young art scene in difficult times. And he does it without ever being rigid, and never at the expense of the sacred and the profane.

Ethan Pettit, 28 May 2013

Inventory and Prices for Todd Bienvenu

Artist's profile on this site
artist's website
Kang Hoodoo, Bienvenu and Basquait, October 2014
more on Bienvenu in our gallery notebook 2014