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Crucifixion Paintings

Van Gogh's Landscape
Van Gogh's Landscape, 1958
Thomas Chimes (American, born 1921)
Oil on canvas
20 1/8 x 16 inches
Private Collection
In the late 1950s, Thomas Chimes began work on a series of boldly painted, semi-abstract landscapes, which were inspired by Vincent van Gogh’s anguished subject matter and use of vivid yellow hues, as well as by the thickly impastoed surfaces of the Russian-born French painter Nicolas de Staël. Given his own susceptibility to bouts of depression, Chimes may have been drawn to the tragic nature of the work of van Gogh and de Staël, both of whom battled with mental illness and eventually committed suicide. These painters also confirmed Chimes's belief in the role of the artist as a clairvoyant prophet or visionary whose work provides unique insights into the human condition. Like many artists of his generation, Chimes regarded van Gogh's ability to convey emotion through expressive color and agitated brushwork as an important precursor to the art of his own time.

Untitled (Crucifix 3)
Untitled (Crucifix 3), 1964
Thomas Chimes (American, born 1921)
Oil on linen
10 1/4 x 7 5/8 inches
Private Collection
By the early 1960s, Chimes had moved on to larger canvases that combined landscape references with symbols such as stars, ladders, dice, and crucifixes. The crucifixion motif relates directly to the artist's upbringing in the Greek Orthodox Church, as well as to his fascination with Henri Matisse's Chapel of the Rosary of the Dominican Nuns at Vence, near Nice in southern France, which Chimes visited in 1952. He transformed his borrowings from the French artist’s vocabulary of schematized animal, fish, and vegetal motifs to create his own dynamic canvases, deploying rows of X-shaped forms on fields of bold, flat color that unfurl over the compositions like flags or banners. In the mid-1960s, Chimes began a new series of paintings featuring highly abstracted symbols mixed with recognizable imagery, such as letters, mathematical equations, and X-rays. In these Surrealist-inspired paintings, the artist delved into his unconscious, preferring the symbols he found there to remain mysterious, even to himself.



Metal Boxes

Green Box
Green Box, 1966–68
Thomas Chimes (American, born 1921)
Mixed media metal box
14 1/4 x 11 1/4 inches
Private Collection
In the mid-1960s, Thomas Chimes began making austere, finely crafted metal box constructions that often incorporated small symbolic drawings, paintings, or even hidden messages. He had become fascinated with the work of the tormented French poet, author, and actor Antonin Artaud, whose writings inspired Chimes to incorporate the image of Artaud's tragicomic, birdlike alter ego "le Mômo" into his boxes. This emblem was often placed within stark assemblages of aluminum panels accented with electrical switches, radio antennae, and intercom speakers. His use of the latest technological devices was directly informed by the then controversial ideas of the Canadian cultural theorist Marshall McLuhan, who called for artists to interpret modern technology (doomed to increasingly rapid obsolescence) as the art forms of tomorrow.

 


Master and Own
Master and Own, 1966
Thomas Chimes, American
Mixed media metal box
64 x 48 inches
Private Collection. Courtesy of Locks Gallery, Philadelphia
The hard-edged, pristine surfaces of Chimes's metal boxes contrast sharply with the Renaissance and Art Nouveau–inspired drawings he included within them, calling attention to McLuhan’s accelerating timeline and the increasingly blurred distinction between functional and aesthetic objects. These boxes have an affinity with the wit and eroticism of Marcel Duchamp’s The Large Glass, as well as Joseph Cornell’s poetic box constructions (such as Homage to Juan Gris). Chimes's often humorous and erotic compositions were also a criticism of the formal austerity of Minimalism, which had begun to dominate the artistic climate of the mid-to-late 1960s. In contrast with Minimalism's cool, industrial surfaces, the heated eroticism of Chimes's works reflects the prevailing atmosphere of sexual freedom and experimentation. The artist’s imagery of male and female genitalia, open mouths, and sexual arousal through electronic stimulation transcend its origins in Surrealism and Pop Art to produce a startling iconography of sadomasochistic pleasure and pain in the age of McLuhan.

 

 



Construction #403
Construction #403, 1967
Thomas Chimes (American, born 1921)
Mixed media metal box
14 x 11 inches
Private Collection
Set (The Decent)
Set (The Decent), 1972
Thomas Chimes (American, born 1921)
Mixed media metal box
17 1/16 x 13 1/8 inches
Private Collection, Courtesy of the Locks Gallery, Philadelphia

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