Rob Pruitt: Therapy Paintings
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Rob Pruitt had his years in the wilderness. Back in the early ’90s, in collaboration with fellow American artist Jack Early, Pruitt created an installation that openly criticised and attacked mainstream society’s appropriation of African-American culture.
It was a humorous, but deadly serious, attack on the commodification of black culture. The artists, by the way, are both white. But the art world couldn’t handle it, they were accused of racism and completely ostracised. Early never really came back, but Pruitt did, in style, with a 16-foot-long mirror lined with real cocaine called ‘Cocaine Buffet’ in 1998. Stick that where the sun don’t shine, art world (your nose).
So yeah, he’s doing OK now, but having your career almost destroyed by baseless accusations of racism is the kind of thing that might require years of therapy.
And that’s where his latest show comes in, because each of these large canvases is based on doodles Pruitt creates during his therapy sessions. There’s a sense of rushed, scribbled intensity to these big blue and white works, a sort of manic stream-of-consciousness free-for-all. But you also see areas that have been painted over, reworked. It’s a tense mixture of freedom and anxious overthinking.
Sure, they look like countless abstract paintings from the past 90 years, but they have their own personality, borne from how they were created. The big canvases are accompanied by the original A5 sheets of paper covered in blue biro. They’re awesomely and uncomfortably personal. I don’t know what the hell the ceramic cats that dot the gallery are doing here though – they’re horrible, like tacky, rain-damaged clearance items in a rural garden centre.
Everything together here (except for those stupid cats) feels intense, rushed and really pretty. These works aren’t confessional like Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed’, because Pruitt isn’t telling an obvious story, but you do feel a little like you’re standing in the therapist’s office with him, secretly watching him pore over his anxieties. So it’s a bit icky, but very pretty, and it makes you damned glad he’s out of that wilderness