Thomas Barger Wholesome
TUMMY TIED: ON THOMAS BARGER’S WHOLESOME
Salon 94 Design is pleased to present Thomas Barger’s second New York solo exhibition Wholesome. Included in the show are Barger’s Shaker-inspired paper pulp pulpit chairs, a few cloudy coffee tables and petite side chairs, animalesque objects, vintage chair assemblages, and new large-scale wall works, such as Innie or outie Interruption and Scattered Interruption. The artist and master colorist continues his curious amble down the Paper Pulp Built Road.
Wholesome takes its name from a recurring triangulation of hole motifs–functional lightening holes, peepholes, and wicker baskets–dispersed throughout this work. Trained as an architect and landscape designer at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Barger has a keen awareness for interlacement and intention. The absence of matter in the design of an object – from a hole, for instance–alleviates logistical hurdles such as bulkiness or fragility. The embedded baskets, on the other hand, serve as thoughtful counterweights. They can be temporal, rather than spatial, voids during bouts of uncertainty and trouble.
Holes and baskets are everywhere in the wall works. Their surfaces come in shades of shellfish, mouse gray, and gingham red. Each wall work has the option to rest upon claw-like jet-black footrests. The footrests resemble deep sea bottom dwellers; Barger calls them his “crustaceans.” He explains that they reify parts of our “shadow selves” that emerge from the inside-out, horny for organic possibility and abnormal growth. They exist to displace, with what Susan Sontag might call “the irrational indulgence of desire.” The claws give the work a spritely feel. There’s a sense that at any moment these totemic creatures might scamper off from fear of their fortuitous, fertile meaning.
One jumbo-sized footrest differs from the others. Painted ivory, it looks less as a bottom dweller holding the heavy weight of its inconvenient other and more as a table. A patient table. It’s pregnant with possibility, as the saying goes, which seems especially true for most works in Barger’s show. What kind of keepsake would look best resting atop this clawing table? Blooming rosebuds, a basket of fruit, maybe a wool scarf. Near the table are circular, two-tiered coffee tables lined with wavy edges. Called Gray Little Table, they shiver and shake, their legs resembling Mafaldine pasta. Are they boiling in hot air? It’s a thoughtful counterpoise to both the footrest and table claws’ sinister curls.
The Big Ole Gray Table has a spiral inclusion, like a mouse tail, that protrudes from beneath its tabletop, giving the work a rodent-like compactness. A cubic sculpture, perforated like swiss cheese and bearing the same spiraling tail, perches nearby. The two works suggest another species of bottom dweller scurrying on concrete ground. Rodents, with their glistening flesh-stubs and scattered black droppings, are ripe with both phallic feelings and anal associations. The driving forces of an animal’s existence arises from love and hunger. Love and hunger, the same stuff we fill our human holes with, too. The same could be said of Barger’s functional artworks.
Thomas Barger likes to play with holes. Some holes come in rows on the backs and bottoms of his paper pulp, plywood, and polyurethane chairs. Other holes burrow neatly through coffee tables and shelf assemblages. Still others are spread high up to the pointed ends of his Tall Pulpit Chair. On a few occasions, the holes are heart-shaped cut-outs from found antique furniture. But mostly, they are exact circles, approximately 3 inches in diameter. They are ideal cavities to slide a few fingers through or, with a little patience and tenacity, a whole wrist. Pillories for our slippery hands and distracted appetites.
Recently, some cavities have baskets fitted inside them and others have been transformed into peepholes. Take a look inside one of his peepholes and you’ll be met with a photograph of a taut tummy and a fuzzy navel. Baskets can hold fruits and wools. Fuzzy navels take a lover’s fruit juices or wool crumbs. The happy trails are sweet spots for our eyes to find something firm and warm after so much fingering around in the hole-y unknown. Sure, you are only given a little flesh to rest your eyes upon but a tummy might be a nice place for a lover to find refuge after so much exploring.
— John Belknap
Thomas Barger is an artist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. Barger is originally from a rural Cattle farm in Mattoon, Illinois. Barger came to New York in order to access his own homosexual identity at a distance from his rural, conservative, religious background. Barger’s work has been a process of emotional, intellectual, and spiritual exploration grounded in craft, narrative, and humor. Thomas Barger studied architecture and landscape architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
For additional information on the work of Thomas Barger, please contact Trang Tran.
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