Sample Essay On The Suspension By Llyn Foulkes

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Human, America, United States, Humans, Artwork, Painting, Society, Culture

Pages: 3

Words: 825

Published: 2021/02/08

Mixed Media on Canvas

Renowned for his visceral aesthetics, black humor, and provocation, Llyn Foulkes has remained at the periphery of the art establishment because he overtly rebels against commercialism by deploying novel painting techniques and creating diverse corpus of artwork. He opines about the dehumanization of the individual vis-à-vis a bureaucratic process in The Suspension, whereby humans merely become case numbers due to the advent of new and innovative technologies. A headless female figure is placed at the center of the canvas, layered on top of a cross and a realistic looking back of a human body that has several rashes and skin blotches that signify a defect or malady. “Case Number 5542-3786” is written at the top of the painting, which suggests a technocratic process in which humans have wholly lost their identity. Furthermore, combined with the technocratic headline, the visual iconography suggests that the faceless figure is or has been involved in a criminal case. It appears she might be hanged for a past crime she committed, while she also seemingly transforms into a mere trifle. Within a post-human world, humans retain a liminal identity in which they are suspended in a post-apocalyptic world that blends together surrealist and realist aspects and techniques together. Foulkes’ work eschews idealism in favor of illuminating the vagaries of the human condition within the context of modernity. The chasm between idealism and realism in modern America are conveyed through the visceral qualities of this modernist painting.
The Suspension elucidates Foulkes’ ability to produce visceral effects on large canvases that limn a dark rather than sanitized vision of modern American culture. By removing the faces of the figures in this painting, Foulkes wanted to illuminate how rotten American society and culture had become as a result of modernization. Such potent iconography imbues the painting with currency because it renders the viewer vulnerable vis-à-vis the deconstruction of authority. The composition of the artwork itself combats traditional narrative techniques in order to underscore disunity and alienation that humans face on a quotidian basis. The relationship between the text or language and the viewer is highly complex. This connection is forged with the creation of space that eschews linearity and suspends time in a way that visually articulates how modernity propelled the devolution of the human soul, which has become diseased and rotten as a result. This piece of artwork has a three dimensional affect and was created out of various types of materials and fabric that remain affixed to the surface of the canvas. Moreover, the rendering of the diseased back of a human body appropriates the realistic nature of a photographic image. The clear signifiers of disease on the back of the body proffers a visceral critique on the insidious and nefarious nature of pop culture in a commercialized America. Commentators have point to Disney products as well as American political leaders such as Ronald Reagan as primary objects that Foulkes was obsessed about. In Walt Disney and Ronald Reagan, Foulkes lamented that such public figures underscored how morally bereft Americans had become.
Foulkes used the colors red, white, and blue—which are unequivocally associated with American patriotism as the colors of the American flag—in conjunction with corporeal imagery that underscored Foulkes’ visceral mastery of pieces of artwork in a modernist vein. The faceless female figure at the center of the piece dons sartorial patterns reminiscent of a culturally-conservative and traditional moral canon based on stringent gender mores steeped in a Christian ethos. According to traditional gender conventions, upright women were expected to completely cover their bodies with clothing in order to accentuate modesty and restraint as hallmark feminine virtues. This modernist representation suggests that modernity rendered the traditional moral canon obsolete, as the faceless woman—who typifies the female prototype—is seemingly hung by the vertical line connecting the female figure to the top as if she were dead by hanging. Interestingly, the female figure is framed by a red cross that is placed over a nude-colored circle that is ultimately layered over a blue cross. The cross in western society evokes religiosity and a protestant ethos that has defined American society and culture since the inception of the nation. Foulkes appropriates sartorial patterns and iconic imagery in order to articulate a narrative concerning the bureaucratic process in which humans have devolved into a state of materiality. Technology and modern society, according to this narrative, has effectively erased human individuality, imprisoned the human soul, and suspended humans into a state of liminality.
Foulkes’ The Suspension articulates a litany of coded discourses regarding human agency and technology in unconventional ways that address the notion of communication set within a post-human world devoid of morality in a traditional sense. Within this framework of post-human indeterminacy, this unusual and confounding piece of artwork seemingly portrays the existence of an apocalyptic and alternate world in which humans, stripped of their senses and individual agency, fail to realize that their ontological reality has gone through a paradigm shift as a result of the nefarious nature of American pop culture and mass consumerism that it entailed. The mechanical nature of American society has stripped its denizens of their identity. Foulkes’ ontological approach to the production of his artwork thereby critiques the artistic reproduction of hegemonic ideological social constructs related to gender, class, and race rather than radically critiquing notions related to human subjectivity.


Knode, Marilu and Rosetta Brooks. Llyn Foulkes: Between a Rock and a Hard Place. Los Angeles: Fellows of Contemporary Art,1995.
Rubinston, Raphael. Llyn Foulkes: One Man Band. A Lost Frontier Productions. Documentary.
Stefans, Brian Kim. “Object Man: On Llyn Foulkes at the Hammer.”
Whiting, Cecile. Pop L.A.: Art and the City in the 1960s. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.

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