My favorite exhibitions are the ones that transform reality so that I feel less like I’m in a gallery looking at a picture and more like I’m inside someone’s skull and the artwork is the embodiment of their ideas.
John Tinker’s immersive solo show at Linda Durham Contemporary Art does just that. It is like walking into Willy Wonka’s laboratory, with its blend of fantastical foods, dangerous toys and mischief.
Tinker would be classified as a sculptor, but his objects are more akin to fabrication than sculpture. The works assume existing forms such as sweets, fruits and piles of cream. They appear to be a hybrid of Takashi Murakami and Claes Oldenburg’s work, and to mesh the clean pop aesthetic and small scale of Murakami’s pieces with the everyday objects Oldenburg so loves.
Tinker is a fitting name as it aptly describes his process—take an object and modify its scale and shape, or embellish its natural outcroppings in the name of improvement. The result is a collection of works that range from the uncanny to the naughty to the sort of gross.
Tinker’s craft is so consistently refined and flawless that the objects are admirable as examples of restraint and patience. If nothing else, they’re handsome examples of Spartan design. However, the end toward which Tinker aims is usually non-functional, as in his furniture, which is occupied, or his food, which is either too large or too strange to put into one’s mouth.
What saves the work from being merely decorative (or silly one-liners, depending on whom you ask) is the collective mood. On their own, I don’t know how much thought I would give to the works beyond their craftsmanship, but a quick scan of the gallery reveals a number of similarities between the somewhat disparate objects, indicating an ongoing thought process. It’s a little harder to grasp what that thought process is. However, a careful inspection of the titles, forms and the artist’s statement convinces me the artist knows where he’s going.
I do get the sense there is a lot of sexual tension. The following is a list of words that came up in titles or in my own notes that are either slang for something dirty or at least sound dirty: nuts, stool, honey pot, coconuts, lactation, cream, lily, pulse, veiny, nipple, dripping, kumquat and Turning Japanese. Even the show’s title, “y Otra Delectica” in particular, sounds lascivious. (Try unbuttoning your shirt a little while saying it.)
For the most part, the objects are suggestive of an interior life not normally associated with, say, almonds. Again I should say I didn’t always catch the metaphor, but it seemed clear that the anthropomorphism in Tinker’s work is an attempt to communicate something about people, especially the various types of puddles we are capable of making. In many of the works, the objects ooze and leak liquids. Or they merely display them. In either case, the contents of Tinker’s creations are seeping out for all to see, and the visceral puns are fun and embarrassing.
Occasionally Tinker seems to realize he is being opaque and the works address the tension between content and form. In “Turning Japanese,” a healthy serving of vanilla soft-serve sits upon a highly stylized chair. It’s a nice chair, but the pile of dessert likens retinal art to empty calories.
This sentiment is echoed in “Personality Crisis,” a gilded fleur-de-lis that hangs upside down below a mirror cut into the same shape. Culturally, the fleur-de-lis is ubiquitous, used in everything from coats of arms to wallpaper to drawer pulls. I imagine the artist confronting his reflection, pondering the distinction between personal iconography and generic decoration.
Decide for yourself. Tinker’s work is only on view through Saturday, so clear your schedule and go see the show of a unique and talented local artist.
Fruta Tecnica y Otra Delectica
Through March 27
Linda Durham Contemporary Art
1807 Second St.