Stephen Truax

Intimacy (June - August, 2018), a summer group exhibition organized by Stephen Truax, will present historical LGBTQ-identified artists' work in context with young, emerging artists today. The exhibition will expand from its original concept taken from the 2017 essay for Artsy on contemporary queer figuration to include works that deal more broadly with relationships and intimacy in general. It will be on view at Yossi Milo, New York.

An essay on contemporary figurative painting, "Why Young Queer Artists are Trading Anguish for Joy," with interviews and studio visits with TM Davy, Louis Fratino, Celeste Dupuy-Spencer, Sholem Krishtalka, Doron Langberg, Sam McKinniss, and Michael Stamm, commissioned by Artsy. (November 2017).

A review of Martin Boyce, Sleeping Chimneys. Dead Stars. at Tanya Bonakdar, New York, in The Brooklyn Rail. (June 2017).

A review of Stephen Irwin, Check to see if still dead inside., at Invisible Exports, New York, in The Brooklyn Rail. (May 2017).

A review of Sputterances, organized by Sanya Kantarovsky at Metro Pictures, New York, in The Brooklyn Rail. (April 2017).

A review of EJ Hauser, ME + YOU, at Regina Rex, New York, in The Brooklyn Rail (April 2017).

A review by Terence Trouillot of How Will I Know (October 2016), curated by Dr. Anne Luther, at 67 Ludlow, New York, in ArtPulse magazine, Miami (March 2017).

Stephen Truax, How Will I Know, 2016

Installation view: How Will I Know, curated by Anne Luther, 2016, including Cruising Ground (Hasenheide) I, and Cruising Ground (Hasenheide) II, both 2015.

A review of TM Davy, Horses at 11R, New York, in The Brooklyn Rail (February 2017).

How Will I Know (October 2016), an exhibition of drawings, photographs, texts, and a sound work, curated by Dr. Anne Luther, at 67 Ludlow, in New York. The works construct a nonlinear narrative of the shared experience of three men. The exhibition ran from October 7 through October 29.
Stephen Truax, How Will I Know, 2016

Stephen Truax, Cruising Ground (Hasenheide) I, 2015, C-print, 36 x 52 inches, framed, installed on steel piping

Stephen Truax, How Will I Know, 2016

Installation view: How Will I Know, curated by Anne Luther, 2016.

Stephen Truax, How Will I Know, 2016

Stephen Truax, Cruising Ground (Hasenheide) II, 2015, C-print, 36 x 52 inches, framed, installed on steel piping

Stephen Truax, How Will I Know, 2016

Installation view: How Will I Know, curated by Anne Luther, 2016.

Stephen Truax, How Will I Know, 2016

Installation view: How Will I Know, curated by Anne Luther, 2016.

Stephen Truax, How Will I Know, 2016

Installation view: How Will I Know, curated by Anne Luther, 2016.

Stephen Truax, How Will I Know, 2016

Stephen Truax, How Will I Know, 2016, sound installation on headphones, duration: 13 minutes

Stephen Truax, How Will I Know (Eating Ass), 2016

Stephen Truax, How Will I Know (Eating Ass), 2016, graphite on paper, 11 3/4 x 8 1/4 inches / 29.7 x 21.0 cm

Stephen Truax, How Will I Know (Driving), 2016

Stephen Truax, How Will I Know (Driving), 2016, graphite on paper, 11 3/4 x 8 1/4 inches / 29.7 x 21.0 cm

Stephen Truax, How Will I Know (Erection), 2016

Stephen Truax, How Will I Know (Erection), 2016, graphite on paper, 11 3/4 x 8 1/4 inches / 29.7 x 21.0 cm

Stephen Truax, How Will I Know (In The Morning), 2016

Stephen Truax, How Will I Know (In The Morning), 2016, graphite on paper, 11 3/4 x 8 1/4 inches / 29.7 x 21.0 cm

Stephen Truax, How Will I Know (Sleeping), 2016

Stephen Truax, How Will I Know (Sleeping), 2016, graphite on paper, 11 3/4 x 8 1/4 inches / 29.7 x 21.0 cm

Stephen Truax, How Will I Know (Sunday), 2016

Stephen Truax, How Will I Know (Sunday), 2016, graphite on paper, 11 3/4 x 8 1/4 inches / 29.7 x 21.0 cm

Intimate drawings show the domestic involvement of a married couple with a third partner, whose observations become a record of their relationship. The subjects of the drawings, whether real or imagined, oscillate around the question suggested in the exhibition’s title. Truax presents this question in the multiple facets of the relationship and in every image and text: daily pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and antiretroviral medication, the invitation to the privileged life of his partners, and banal objects are examined from a position of hopeful doubt. The narrative fosters a sympathetic relationship between us and the observer.

This narrative is presented in contrast to two photographs that position us standing alone on a foot-worn path in Volkspark Hasenheide in Berlin. Not knowing of what could happen walking further, we are searching for the unknown in these photographs. The possibilities these photographs suggest are only available to gay men cruising for sex. Only the people who know exactly where this particular spot is can find it -- or would even look for it. The anonymity of the photographs, though taken in an public space, suggests an exclusivity in direct comparison to the illimitable openness of the domestic narratives.

In these works, we find ourselves in the cruising ground, in the bedroom, in the car, and thus implicated in the activities that go on there. How Will I Know proposes that personal life can be employed as a statement of continuing political urgency.

An interview with Sam Jablon on his exhibition Over Heard at Diane Rosenstein, Los Angeles, in CRUSH Fanzine (September 2016).

An exhibition of photographs organized by Colby Bird at Frontispiece Hudson in Coxsackie, NY (August 2016). Cruising Ground (Hasenheide) I and II, both 2015, depict banal forest landscapes that are taken at an active gay cruising ground in a public park in Berlin.
Stephen Truax, Cruising Ground (Hasenheide), 2015

Stephen Truax, Cruising Ground (Hasenheide) I, 2015, Archival inkjet print, 30 x 48 inches / 76.2 x 121.92 cm

Stephen Truax, Cruising Ground (Hasenheide), 2015

Stephen Truax, Cruising Ground (Hasenheide) II, 2015, Archival inkjet print, 30 x 48 inches / 76.2 x 121.92 cm

A review of Nicole Eisenman's concurrent exhibitions at Anton Kern, New York, and Al-ugh-ories, at the New Museum, New York, in The Brooklyn Rail (July/August 2016).

A review of Raoul De Keyser's posthumous exhibition, Drift, 2016, at David Zwirner, New York, in The Brooklyn Rail (May 2016).

Super Sketchy, an exhibition of drawings organized by Alleyoop Projects at DCTV in New York (April 2016). Triad, 2016, is part of the series, How Will I Know, 2015-2016, which are erotic and intimate drawings of and about gay men.
Stephen Truax, Triad, 2016

Stephen Truax, Triad, 2016, Graphite on paper, 11 3/4 x 8 1/4 inches / 29.7 x 21.0 cm

A review of John Walker's exhibition, Looking Out to Sea, at Alexandre Gallery, New York, in The Brooklyn Rail (February 2016).

Harthaus, an exhibition Jessica and Oliver Ralli organized in their home in Brooklyn (June 2015). Studio Party are long exposure 35mm photographs that document artist friends dancing naked in front of paintings in a studio during a 2014 performance in Brooklyn.
Stephen Truax, Studio Party (Male Friendship), 2015

Stephen Truax, Studio Party (Male Friendship), 2015, Archival pigment print, 36 x 52 inches / 91.44 x 137.16 cm framed

Stephen Truax, Studio Party (Oliver), 2015

Stephen Truax, Studio Party (Oliver), 2015, Archival pigment print, 52 x 36 inches / 137.16 x 91.44 cm framed

My paintings and photographs appreciate "friends" (other works) to create a context. If the paintings can be friends, can they make friends with the viewer? In 2014, my friends came and danced naked in front of my paintings, and I photographed them.

One friend, a recent father, showed up earlier than everyone else -- he had to get home early. Before anyone else arrived, we took a shot of whiskey, and he stripped. I watched him dance through the viewfinder of my camera, periodically snapping shots at a slow shutter speed. He danced hard, put his beer down, broke a sweat; his glasses spilled to the floor.

The playlist I made folded in the soundtrack of my favorite childhood video game. Like any good music/movie/novel, it recalls a specific emotional moment in my life. Inclemently warm days in winter when the sun was strong enough to melt the snow in the park; playing "make believe" by myself when I was too old for it. The loneliness in the solitude of the studio was ameliorated by temporarily making it a place of leisure.

The photographs compress viewer and art object into a single document. The blurry dancer in front of a painting becomes a painting -- or a part of the painting -- himself. Friends' relationships in front of/with the paintings are now a part of the work.

Golden Age,” a book presentation and panel discussion with Marco Antonini and Christopher K. Ho, at the Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, GA, (April 2015), Tapp’s Art Center, Columbia, SC (April 2015), and TSA New York (March 2015).
Golden Age talk at TSA New York, 2015

Golden Age,” panel discussion with Marco Antonini, Christopher K. Ho, and Stephen Truax, moderated by Alex Paik at TSA New York.
Photo courtesy NURTUREart, New York.

Making History, organized by Krista Saunders and Dexter Wimberly, an inclusive exhibition that seeks to document the history of the art community in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and benefit for Arts in Bushwick, at Storefront Ten Eyck, New York (April 2015). It included DIY Bushwick, 2015, an original print copy of “DIY Bushwick,” and “Artists in Bushwick,” published in The Brooklyn Rail in June 2011 and July/August 2011, with hand-written notations of self-effacing, humorous, and critical commentary on the text.
Stephen Truax, DIY Bushwick, 2015

Stephen Truax, DIY Bushwick, 2015
Ink on The Brooklyn Rail newsprint, 18 x 23 inches / 45.72 x 58.42 cm
(Truax, Stephen. "DIY Bushwick," and "Artists in Bushwick." The Brooklyn Rail. June Issue, July/August Issue, 2011.)

Texts on Lois Dodd, Tamara Gonzales, Ronnie Landfield, and John Walker, commissioned for the online catalog Come Together: Surviving Sandy, edited by Thyrza Goodeve, published by The Brooklyn Rail (November 2014).

Interview on contemporary painting strategies in New York with Ariel Dill, Lauren Portada, and Marco Antonini, with illustrations of paintings, for The Golden Age: Perspectives on Abstract Painting Today, edited by Marco Antonini and Christopher K. Ho, published by NURTUREart, New York (October, 2014).
The Golden Age

The Golden Age, edited by Marco Antonini and Christopher K. Ho (NURTUREart, New York: October 2014)

Sunday Painter

Stephen Truax, Sunday Painter (Palette Painting), 2013, Gouache, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 16 in / 76.2 x 116.84 cm

Sunday Painter

Stephen Truax, Sunday Painter (Sunset Painting Blue), 2013, Gouache, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 16 in / 76.2 x 116.84 cm

Half Drop, organized by Meredith Nemirov, at Telluride Arts 81435 Gallery, with Vince Contarino, Gabrielle D’Angelo, Christopher K. Ho, Benny Merris, Meghan Petras, and Craig Taylor (September 2014).

Stephen Truax, Postcard from Berlin 1, 2014, Gouache, acrylic on tourist postcard, 5.8 x 4.1 inches / 14.8 x 10.5 cm

Stephen Truax, Postcard from Berlin 2, 2014, Gouache, acrylic on tourist postcard, 5.8 x 4.1 inches / 14.8 x 10.5 cm

Stephen Truax, Postcard from Berlin 3, 2014, Gouache, acrylic on tourist postcard, 5.8 x 4.1 inches / 14.8 x 10.5 cm

Stephen Truax, Postcard from Berlin 3 (reverse), 2014, Gouache, acrylic on tourist postcard, 5.8 x 4.1 inches / 14.8 x 10.5 cm

Stephen Truax, Postcard from Berlin 5, 2014, Gouache and pen on postcard, 5.8 x 4.1 inches / 14.8 x 10.5 cm


“What Happens at the Spa,” a second-person narrative text on gay sauna culture in Berlin, compared to anonymous hookups in New York, published in Adult magazine, New York (May 5, 2014).

Berlin, May 2014: I feel a bit treasonous even now. My immediate feeling was, what happens at the spa stays at the spa. This place feels downright illegal. And, of course, in the US, it probably would be. Americans: we quarantine any sexual activity to a specific time and place, relegate its discussion to therapy, never, ever tell anyone about it. At first, I was uncomfortable discussing it with the friends I was staying with here in Berlin. Should I tell them where I'm going?

Just off a main street in Kreuzberg, behind two street food vendors with absurdly long and ever-present queues of tourists, there is a secluded courtyard, home to an independent theater, a youth hostel, and a very large steel door marked by a glowing blue doorbell. A security camera stares down at you. Ring the doorbell, and a tone is sent throughout the spa; somebody new has arrived. If entry is granted, you are buzzed into a sort of holding area. A friendly man greets you in German from behind a plexiglass window: "Hallo." There is another steel door separating you from the spa. This double layer of security prevents the wrong people from gaining entrance, thus creating a (reasonably sober) gay-men-only bubble of safety.

Pay, and you are issued a warm towel and a numbered locker key on a black Velcro bracelet, usually damp from the previous wash. You are buzzed through the second steel door. Upstairs, sunlight streams through a bright locker room with blonde wood floors. Someone is changing, just leaving with wet hair; someone is sitting, staring dolefully at Facebook or Gay Romeo on one of the two public computers; someone else is snoozing in a wooden lounge chair. There is an open shower room, and a closed bathroom with an anal shower, complete with squat toilet and disinfectant spray, should you be so inclined. Strip off your clothes and you are left with only the towel and your numbered key bracelet.

Down an open set of stairs, through which, looking down, you can see the bartender or the towel-folding guy looking up — Can they see my junk in the towel? — you come upon a restaurant/bar that is completely normal, outside of the fact that all of the patrons are male and naked, save the towels. There is a full menu, including pizza, sandwiches, cake, espresso, Club Mate, beer and cigarettes. Everything costs the same inside the spa as it does on the street. There is a charming outdoor garden protected by yellow and white striped awnings, and here men smoke, drink beer, eat salads. Your numbered key serves as a tab.

This outdoor area never feels cold because your body temperature is so high. You can get aromatherapy treatments, with lavender, or eucalyptus, or cherry liquor infusions poured on the hot black rocks; afterward, in the garden, they serve yogurt, fresh fruit, and juice service free of charge. There is a nap room, though I've never used it. There is really no reason to leave. One of the staff confided to me, "We're cheaper than a hotel room." There is a story of a middle-aged German man who slept there every night for an entire year.

Down the second set of stairs, which serve as a portal into the spa, you are confronted with the only timepiece in the entire space, a large blue digital clock in European time: 14:32. Three hours can pass in minutes, and ten minutes in the hot sauna can feel like an eternity. You don't have your phone, or your watch, and the outside world becomes very distant. The size of the place is unreal as well: it occupies two stories above ground, and the basement, with its saunas and sex areas and hiding places. There are so many possible routes and destinations that it can be overwhelming, even for a routine visitor.

The spa is open daily from noon to 6 AM, and on weekends it runs 24 hours straight from Friday at noon to Monday at 6 AM. It is open 365 days per year. I've played games with the time slots, intentionally arriving at what I think must be odd hours. Surely, no one would be there on a Wednesday at 11 PM? A Sunday morning at 11 AM? And, of course, there are always men there. Sunday afternoons it's so packed it's shoulder-to-shoulder.

A very naked young man is dripping up the stairs without a towel. He isn't trying to hide anything. He walks calmly over to the towel guy, who smiles, and wordlessly hands him a fresh one. The young man dries his face, wraps the towel around himself, and walks back downstairs, ignoring the five or six lecherous older men, and the cute bartender, who have all been staring at him the entire time.

Of course, it's not illegal at all. This is a totally legitimate business, and really, a very nice place. It is aggressively clean, antiseptic even. Everyone inside is friendly. Standing naked in front of someone who is also naked at a gay-men-only spa, as one might expect, removes some of the initial social barriers between strangers. "Where are you from?" they always ask, as only about half of these guys actually live in Berlin, and even fewer grew up here. They're from all over the place: Italy, Canada, the Netherlands. Virtually everyone can speak English, though German remains the lingua franca.

You memorize the dark room. The more time you spend down there, the more invested you become in the architecture, finding not only the glory holes, the wet sauna, the rows of sex stalls, and every possible escape route, but also the gaps in the floor plan where they stash the huge heating systems, the steam machines, the innumerable water boilers. To run a place like this requires immense equipment and effort, both of which the spa takes special care to conceal.

In the dark room there is a complex lexicon of nonverbal cues that is difficult, even on the outside, to explain. The slightest turn of your head, a step forward or back, even standing still, posture, the rotation of your shoulders as someone passes you in a narrow hallway, a slight graze between the outer edge of your wrist and another man's thigh — each physical gesture could be either an accident or an invitation. Everyone takes delicate care not to stare too long, or touch without consideration. Moving around the space becomes group choreography. Smell becomes a kind of aura. These are your only tools.

When the tools work, it's like electricity. Because all the sex is consensual, in that no one wastes a moment on someone who seems even remotely unwilling or reluctant, a connection can happen in seconds. Or less. A glance, a step, and you're locked in sweaty, wet sex. And not, like, gross, "I guess you'll do" sex, either, but sex that feels expertly produced, insanely hot, with a towering blonde Norwegian kid (22 years old, 24 maybe?) whose cock belongs on Bel Ami, or a 30-something bear who just flew in from Barcelona.

I share the midnight orgies of young men
I pick out some low person for my dearest friend.
He shall be lawless, rude, illiterate

In the sauna, which is thick with steam and illuminated only by knee-high dim red lights, like those on a digital alarm clock, you barely perceive the silhouettes of coagulating men. They are colored in by the unmistakable sound in an otherwise nigh-silent room of slurping, sucking, or ball-slapping fucking. Once, I accidentally burst into laughter (a cardinal crime in the sauna, and possibly all of Germany) when I saw a man take his moist Havaianas flip-flop and jokingly start smacking it against the wall, and waited for men to come looking for the show.

From a bench illuminated by a large window that looks into the jacuzzi pool, you can see everything the bathers think is obscured by the bubbling water. It's mesmerizing, watching men floating there, making out, touching each other like fish in a huge aquarium.

The difference between this and a sex party in New York is that you don't have to come here for sex, or get it, or give. Sex in public is encouraged, especially by the significantly older patrons. But it becomes impractical. A crowd forms. Nobody can get in or out, or even breathe for that matter. You lose track. Whose hand was that? And, inevitably, you grab the person you're with and dance out of the crowd to find somewhere private, where you can actually tell what's going on. In the private, lockable sex-stalls, a generic sort of soundtrack is pumped in: untz, untz, untz. One room has a hanging leather harness with stirrups. But really, that's not the point. Your experience can be as vanilla or as intense as you choose.

Doing nothing at all is equally acceptable; go sit quietly in the open-air garden and no one will bother you.

Some of them want to use you.
Some of them want to get used by you.
Some of them want to abuse you.
Some of them want to be abused.

There are no handshakes here. You cannot use regular clues to ascertain whether or not you'll get on with someone. There are no new Nike Frees to note, no Margiela white x's in sweaters, no business suits or cargo pants or hoodies. In the spa there is only hair style. You become preternaturally attuned to the depth of a buzz cut; a dizzying variety of facial hair lengths and patterns; body hair, whether natural, trimmed, shaved, waxed, none; tattoos; jewelry, like watches. The style with which he wraps his towel becomes important: bottoms will often wrap low, showing a bit of ass crack, or halve the towel laterally to reveal more leg, while tops dip the towel forward, locking a thumb into their waistline to show some pubic hair.

Body shape and size becomes exaggerated: tall men look like giants, small men like elves. Surprisingly, your built-in body-consciousness melts away. Everyone's naked, what have you got to hide? There are fat guys, skinny guys, muscle-bound guys. Nobody seems to care much about age, either.

I've made a friend virtually every time I've gone to the spa. One of them, who met his current roommate there, came and visited me back in New York. Many of the local Berliners know each other from around town and are friendly with one another, striking up conversations anywhere throughout the spa, double-cheek-kissing one another and holding court near the heated lounging platforms.

In New York there are zillions of gay men, and I've found that the primary method of meeting and hooking up with them is a mobile app like Grindr or Scruff. These often-anonymous encounters happen in private spaces, in men's apartments, or locked offices, removing almost any public display of an activity in which virtually everyone participates. Gay bars, clubs, and parties, become not places to meet and maybe hook up with new people, but merely places to hang out with other gay friends. In New York, one only has gay friends, there is no "community."

Young man, there's a place you can go.
I said, young man, when you're short on your dough.
You can stay there, and I'm sure you will find
Many ways to have a good time.

It's possible I simply have yet to click into the gay community there is in New York; perhaps there are practices and places and hiding places that reflect perfectly what I'm describing in Berlin. But if that's the case, after six years in New York, I must also take into consideration why it is so hard for a gay man to find the underground of other gay men. If it's there, why is it so difficult to penetrate? Why is it invisible?

The youth culture in New York seems to cultivate a "post-gay" way of being. Their rhetorical questions are different: Why open a gay bar in Bushwick when all the other bars have gays and queers frequenting them, and when all the other patrons are so accepting, so tolerant, so willing to let anyone play by their rules? Why step outside the lines if you're no longer marginalized? This attitude has, if not altogether the same cause, the same effect as Grindr and Scruff — to erase the public desires of gay and queer people, to diminish its importance in general. "Post-gay" eliminates "being gay" as an identity.

Der Boiler, Berlin, is open daily from 12:00 PM noon to 6:00 AM, and continously from Friday at 12:00 PM noon to Monday at 6:00 AM, 365 days a year.

Interview on painting, comedy, and friendship, with Jonathan Chapline on his blog, #FFFFFF Walls (March 6, 2014).


Photographs courtesy Jonathan Chapline.

Shrink It, Pink It, a group show on the color pink, organized by Irena Jurek at Cathouse Funeral, New York (January 2014).

Install shot

Sunday Painter

Stephen Truax, Untitled (Sunday Painter), 2013, Gouache, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 16 in / 76.2 x 116.84 cm

Studio Party, 2014, a participatory action in studio, invited friends to dance in front of new paintings. (January 2014, December 2013). Studio Shots (Apartment Studio), 2009/2013, is a series of double exposure 35mm photographs that are taken in an apartment where I both lived and made work; they were pulled from a recently-created archive of "every work of art I've ever made," and printed four years after they were taken. Sunday Painter, 2013-2014, is a series of abstract paintings in gouache on canvas at popular student grade sizes (22 x 18 inches, 20 x 16 inches, and 9 x 6 inches); they attempt to avoid stylistic and thematic similarities other than maintaining identical materials and scale; they are installed in groups.

Installation View: Studio Party, 2014

Stephen Truax, Studio Party Invite, 2014

“Shock of the View,” a text on the cultural experience and misadventure of the 54th Venice Biennale, modeled after David Foster Wallace’s “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” published in Hyperallergic (June 6, 2013).

Stephen Truax, Photographs of Venice, 2013

IRL, curated by Mikkel Carl, at Point B Worklodge, New York, included Dora Budor, Nanna Debois Buhl & Liz Linden, Mikkel Carl, Richard Ewans, Marc Ganzglass, Luc Fuller, Parker Ito, Mamiko Otsubo, Kasper Sonne, Brad Troemel, and James Viscardi (April 2013).

Stephen Truax, Corporate Monster (Chicago Blackhawks Victory Parade), 2011, Digital photograph, dimensions variable.

Donut Muffin, curated by Jessica Duffett and Tamara Gonzales, at the Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Programs, New York, explored the intersection of sculpture and painting, and was titled after the delectable Brooklyn pastry that is both a donut and a muffin. The show included Mike Amrhein, Sarah Braman, Ariel Dill, Joe Fyfe, EJ Hauser, Clinton King, Pam Lins, Lauren Luloff, Chris Martin, Nathlie Provosty, Robert Rhee, and Christian Sampson (January—March 2013).

Installation View: Donut Muffin, 2013, including Stephen Truax, EJ Hauser, Michael Amrhein, Ariel Dill, Christian Sampson, and Pam Lins

Installation View: Donut Muffin, 2013, including Stephen Truax, EJ Hauser, Michael Amrhein, and Pam Lins

Stephen Truax, I never knew a man could tell so many lies, 2012, gouache on stretched paper, plywood, C-clamps, steel, 96 x 86 x 16 inches / 243.84 x 218.44 x 40.64 cm

Stephen Truax’s project-based work brings into conversation the history of painting and the personal experience of the artist in context. The intimate and the formal are put forth on the same plane, advocating for an art that can be at once conceptual and rigorous while simultaneously deeply emotional and personal.

In I never knew a man could tell so many lies, 2012, two thinly painted vibrant abstractions hang on plywood panels. The casual installation brings the presence of the studio into the gallery. Truax’s deft handling of materials in these paintings on paper stretched on traditional canvas stretcher bars pointedly reveals the paintings’ classic preparatory structure. What at a distance are bold gestural abstract paintings, at closer look are delicate arresting works that collapse perceived rankings of materials in painting and its display.

Furthermore, the title itself leaves room for interpretation. This appropriated Neil Young lyric could be just a riff on a common cultural icon. After all, the album On the Beach from which it is derived jives well with Truax’s breezy palette. At the same time, the darker implications of the text reverberate with the role of memory.


Duffett, Jessica, and Tamara Gonzales. “Donut Muffin” (Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Programs, New York: January 2013)

The independent curatorial project, LOVE, presented by Joshua Abelow’s ART BLOG ART BLOG, at One River Gallery, Englewood, NJ, was an exhibition of twelve Brooklyn painters’ romantic, emotional attachment to painting, their critical distance from it, and their skepticism of it. The show included Ariel Dill, Tamara Gonzales, Marc Handelman, Christopher K. Ho, Clinton King, Chris Martin, Allie Pisarro-Grant, Christian Sampson, Joshua Smith, Chuck Webster, and Roger White (November 2013).

Installation view: Love, curated by Stephen Truax, 2013, including Christian Sampson, Tamara Gonzales, Marc Handelman, and Allie Pisarro-Grant

Truax, Stephen. “LOVE: Conceptual Strategies in Abstract Painting” (ART BLOG ART BLOG: November 2012)

LOVE is an exhibition, an effort to contextualize the practices of eleven Brooklyn-based artists working with abstract painting. They were selected to represent a cross-section of the incredible variety of media, styles, and subjects visible in the field today. These artists employ painting in concert with parallel artistic activities, deliberately address the history of painting, and concern their practices with its complex philosophical and theoretical issues. (1) What links these artists together is not a specific generation, nationality, or concept, but rather their approach, exemplified not by irony, cynicism, or a Conceptual apparatus, but rather a romantic and emotional involvement with the subject.
(1) “[Painting] delineates itself as a discursively charged praxis designed to articulate and reflect on the multiplicity of interrelations between image, painterly practice, and artistic aspiration.”
Draxler, Helmut. “Painting as Apparatus: Twelve Theses.” Texte zur Kunst, Issue No. 77, March 2010.

Each art historical revolution is professionalized, subsumed into the art market and its institutions, and subsequently embedded into the Academy to be taught to the next generation of art students as part of the canon. It has become more and more difficult to imagine—or for there to be any possibility of—radical action in artistic production. As the archetype of the artist is deconstructed by contemporary curatorial projects, the identity of the artist is finally divorced from the artwork and its interpretation. As the definition of the artist and artwork is questioned/reinterpreted, and as advanced criticism continues to reject painting, over and over again, since the 1960s (2), why continue to paint?
(2) “[A]n increasing gap between advanced criticism and contemporary painting had been set in motion, a split that essentially continues today ... Advanced criticism, of course, deemed [neo-expressionism of the ’80s] to be amnesiac naivete, uncritical affirmation, even politically reactionary. How might a serious engagement with painting persist in the shadow of such opprobrium?”
Hochdorfer, Achim. “A Hidden Reserve.” ARTFORUM, February 2009.

The legacy of Conceptual art has colored contemporary painting more than any other artistic movement in recent history. The critical objectives of Conceptual art were to undo the two most important and enigmatic elements of painting: “the demystification of artisthood and the eradication of the aura of the work of art.” (3) The painter is the quintessential image of the ruminant genius. Yet, the proliferation of Conceptual, political and social art practices heavily influenced by Marxist philosophy eclipsed the solitary-artist model; art is more than ever a public, social practice. Painting remains inadvertently and necessarily tied to the capitalist system: painting remains the most highly sold and traded of any other artistic medium. (4)
(3) van Winkel, Camiel. During the Exhibition the Gallery Will Be Closed: Contemporary Art and the Paradoxes of Conceptualism. Amsterdam: Valiz, 2010.

(4) Velthuis, Olav. Talking Prices: Symbolic Meanings of Prices on the Market for Contemporary Art, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005.

Modern technology, such as printmaking, photography, and film/video, has long been a force that alienated painting from its elevated position in culture by making content ever-more accessible and reproducible. Each painting is valued for its individuality and irreproducibility, two qualities that can be seen as counterproductive in terms of Marxist philosophy, and luddite in terms of contemporary life. Recent history has introduced even more complex and pervasive technologies of reproduction, such as industrial design, digital media, and augmented reality, making painting even more antiquated.

We encounter innumerable media and practices which have removed the hand of the artist from artistic production entirely: the fetish-finish sculpture of Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami, the science and industrial design of Olafur Eliasson, or the multidisciplinary philosophy-driven output of Ryan Gander. In contrast, paintings are still almost entirely made by the artist’s hand. The development of a unique gestural vocabulary is perhaps the ultimate project of a painter, one that links painters and paintings back through art history.

A unique lifelong painting “style” inextricably linked with their oeuvre usually expressed by the artist’s hand remains forefront in our thinking about the production of paintings, such as with Van Gogh, Monet, Matisse, Picasso, Pollock, and de Kooning. Later, “semiotization of the painterly mark”—as found in the work of Mitchell, Twombly, Johns, Frankenthaler, and later more overtly in Lichtenstein and Warhol—would open new areas of research in the medium. Today, style is but one of many tools at the painter’s disposal today, rather than a signature aspect of an artist’s body of work. With no particular allegiance to a method or style of painting, painters are free to quote from antiquity and recent art history, including contradictory styles.

Contemporary art projects reinforce every decision with specific philosophical or political concepts. As in architecture, every aspect of the work is designed to shape the work’s interpretation. Painting is chosen before and independently of any content or concept. Painting has clearly lost its primacy as the most important artistic practice. Painting’s response has been to “make visible the polarizations and polemics of the ’60s,” by addressing head-on the very philosophical arguments made against it, and applying the same Conceptual methodologies to itself that rendered it impotent in the first place. (5)
(5) “By the late ’60s, Rosalind Krauss, Douglas Crimp, and others would argue that painting could remain theoretically sustainable only if it adopted an antimodernist perspective, subjecting itself to the dictates of Minimal and Conceptual art ... Painting in recent years has applied itself to the very problems that the polemics of the ’60s declared dead. Painting has reached a point, it seems, at which it has made visible the polarizations and polemics of the ’60s.”
Hochdorfer, Achim. “A Hidden Reserve.” ARTFORUM, February 2009.

In the wake of the global economic downturn, institutional critique and Marxist philosophy seems increasingly problematic as the basis of critically engaged artistic research. The economic and sociopolitical arguments against painting have become obsolete. This may explain the recent resurgence of painting in critical, curatorial and artistic projects. Painting has become an essential tool for artists’ practices. Paintings that are being made today are exemplified by provisional (6)—i.e., unmonumental—finishes, and are unabashedly beautiful. (7)
(6) Rubenstein, Raphael. “Provisional Painting.” Art in America, May 2009.

(7) Hickey, Dave. “Enter the Dragon: On the Vernacular of Beauty.” The Invisible Dragon. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2009.

Contemporary artists working with abstract painting neither do so blindly ignoring the theoretical and philosophical issues with the medium, as in a politically reactionary manner, nor do they approach the subject in intentionally self-defeating, ironic or cynical approaches (as with Oehlen and Metzger). Painters today paradoxically hold these two contradictory positions (sincerity/irony) simultaneously. This recursive stance seems to be the only way to go forward in the field of art today. Recursion has become endemic in the medium, as we represent every possibility, long after having decided “it had all been done.” It is possible to create a conceptual system of works in which painting is just one component in order to change the role of painting. Many artists choose to work in multiple media, and brace painting, using a cross-compensation approach, with non-painting elements. As painting enters into a meta-art (8) its analysis and interpretation become exponentially more complicated.
(8) “... [painting] as a meta-art, able to assimilate some media effects and to reflect on others precisely because of its relative distance from it.”
Foster, Hal. The First Pop Age:Painting and Subjectivity in the Art of Hamilton, Lichtenstein, Warhol, Richter, and Ruscha. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2012.

Painters today are able to make a painting no longer be just a painting, but rather, the symbol of the activity of painting. (9) This action mirrors the role of art in contemporary culture. The experience of an artwork is a metonym for art. (10) These artists are employing painting as as microcosm of artistic production (11); the archetype of the artist is personified by the painter.
(9) Nickas, Bob. Painting Abstraction. "The Persistence of Abstraction," London: Phaidon, 2009.

(10) “I always think of paintings as a prop in the sense of their own interior specificity in relation to an outward meaning or function, which to me, is one of incongruence.” — Aldrich

(11) “The act of painting, as a historic form of production, may indeed be obsolete in a culture overflowing with media imagery, but painting as such continues to play a leading role in determining how we experience and think about art at all, irrespective of whether we reject or admire contemporary painting.” — Draxler

In this exhibition, I attempt to present a cross-section of contemporary painting being made in New York today by emerging and mid-career artists, underscoring the conceptual methodologies being strategically employed by painters, and how conceptual artists have turned to painting as a strategy. Painting is no longer relegated to the sidelines of cultural production, but is paradoxically at the forefront of innovation in visual art. These artists believe in the inherent value and the power of painting. They practice it sincerely, with a dedication one can only assign to a lifelong pursuit. Artists continue to paint because they love painting.

The escape from the banal everyday life into the world of the ideal, curated by painter Brooke Moyse, at NURTUREart, New York, with Jonathan Allmaier, Tamara Gonzales, EJ Hauser, and Maria Walker, questioned contemporary painters” relationship with mysticism, and was titled after a notebook entry by Charles Birchfield (November 2012).

Installation views: The escape from the banal everyday life into the world of the ideal, curated by Brooke Moyse, at NURTUREart, New York.

Reproduced Photograph

Reproduced Photograph

Stephen Truax, Reproduced Photograph 1 (Study for Ss. Maria in Trastevere 2005), 2012
Archival pigment print, framed: 36 x 25 in / 91.44 x 63.5 cm, Edition 1/3 + 1 AP

Reproduced Photograph

Stephen Truax, Reproduced Photograph 2 (Study for Ss. Maria in Trastevere 2005), 2012
Archival pigment print, framed: 36 x 25 in / 91.44 x 63.5 cm, Edition 1/3 + 1 AP

Reproduced Photograph

Stephen Truax, Reproduced Photograph 3 (Study for Ss. Maria in Trastevere 2005), 2012
Archival pigment print, framed: 36 x 25 in / 91.44 x 63.5 cm, Edition 1/3 + 1 AP

Three 36 x 24 inch framed photographs are images of three unique 6 x 4 inch photographic prints that have been used in studio as source material since they were taken and printed in Rome, Italy, in 2005. The prints were scanned at high resolution using a drum scanner to reveal finger prints, scratches, dust, paint, and other traces of a painting practice.

The images display in high resolution fingerprints, scratches, creases, dust, and other traditionally undesirable elements in photography are visible on the surface of the prints. These elements that link the objects back to the practice of painting. The originals were taken at Santa Maria in Trastevere, in Rome, Italy. All three snapshots were taken in quick succession of one another in order to capture a unique light phenomena where the late fall light poured through the cathedrals stained glass windows and shone as circular and oval shapes of light on colored marble columns.

The images take on the cliche of light streaming through cathedral windows. The images depict signifiers of true authenticity: marble columns, sunlight, taken on-site at an ancient cathedral, etc. The originals are blurred and out of focus, suggesting the haste of their making, a moment of authentic inspiration. They have a strong relationship to abstract painting with their all-over compositions, strong emphasis on color, and paint-like blurry elements that recall brush strokes.

They have been highly refined and run through multiple professional and technological processes to realize the work presented. A moment of romantic excitement about an instant of visual beauty is analyzed and reproduced to a degree that negates their original spontaneity and questions their authenticity.

The images of the photographic prints are presented as totemic objects, the light picked up on the edges of the prints making them seem larger, heavier, and more sculptural than the originals ever could be. They are a monument to a romantic and spiritual experience. They fetishize the objects’ importance in the studio. They funnel all activities in the studio back into artistic production. They qualify the minor action of taking a snapshot to a wall as source material as an artistic gesture.


Moyse, Brooke. The escape from the banal everyday life into the world of the ideal (NURTUREart, New York: November 2012)

Installation view: Stephen Truax, The Xena Series, 2012, at Storefront Ten Eyck.

Stephen Truax, Untitled 1 (The Xena Series), 2012, Gouache, pencil on stretched paper, 20 x 16 in / 50.8 x 40.64 cm

Stephen Truax, Untitled 2 (The Xena Series), 2012, Gouache, pencil on stretched paper, 20 x 16 in / 50.8 x 40.64 cm

Stephen Truax, Untitled 3 (The Xena Series), 2012, Gouache, pencil on stretched paper, 20 x 16 in / 50.8 x 40.64 cm

Stephen Truax, Untitled 4 (The Xena Series), 2012, Gouache, pencil on stretched paper, 20 x 18 in / 50.8 x 40.64 cm

The Xena Series proposes a paradox: contemporary painting can be simultaneously self-questioning and sincere. This recursive stance occupies two contradictory positions. One, painting’s acknowledgment of its own history and emotional meaning. And two, the impossibility that painting can be unselfconsciously meaningful in a contemporary context.

The paintings teeter on the edge of craft by referencing quilting and decorative arts, yet also recall classical spiritual or religious imagery. Although made with materials traditionally used in design and drawing (the hand-drawn pencil grid remains visible in the final image) these works are clearly paintings intended to test the boundaries of the medium.

By isolating common symbols and archetypes from historical, sacred sources and representing them in new, self-consciously-designed works, the artist connects motifs of ancient art and architecture with the practice of painting today. The Xena Series proposes a link between the belief-infused visual language of the past and self-conscious contemporary thought.

WE ARE: Chelsea Haines & Eriola Pira, an exhibition with Scott Lawrence and Anton Terziev, curated by Chelsea Haines and Eriola Pira, was a part of the WE ARE: series, organized by Marco Antonini at NURTUREart, New York, on humor, and its use today in contemporary practice, which also included a stand-up comedy open mic (August 2011).

Installation view: WE ARE: Chelsea Haines & Eriola Pira at NURTUREart, Brooklyn, 2011

Stephen Truax, Stacked Canvases, 2008—2009, Gouache, acrylic on canvas
Three stacks: 12 x 12 x 16 in, 10 x 10 x 16 in, 8 x 8 x 16 in / 30.5 x 30.5 x 40.6 cm, 25.4 x 25.4 x 40.6, 20.3 x 20.3 x 40.6 cm

Stephen Truax, The Artist’s Shoes, 2004—2009
Photograph: 4 x 6 in / 10.16 x 15.24, shoes: approx. 12 x 3 x 5 in / 30.48 x 20.34 x 12.7 cm

“DIY Bushwick” and “Artists in Bushwick,” a two-part text, attempts to create a contemporary history of the artist-rich community of Bushwick, Brooklyn, analyze how the neighborhood has transformed from 1999—2011, and figure out what artists are doing there now, published in The Brooklyn Rail (June—July 2011).

Portal, an independent curatorial project co-organized with curator Janis Ferberg, was a series of video, digital media, and sound exhibitions, and commissioned live social media performances, that connected audiences between Sydney, Beijing and New York. Portal was hosted at Institute of Contemporary Art Newtown (ICAN), Sydney, and Regina Rex, New York (July—October 2011).

Portal is a cross-platform project, organized by Janis Ferberg (Sydney) and Stephen Truax (New York), inviting artists, writers, and audiences to engage in a series of exhibitions of time-based art—including video, new media, sound, and performance—that will survey the changing nature of performance in a moment of digital connectivity.

In recent years, we have seen the increasingly radical transformation and reorganisation of the way human beings communicate. The ever-growing presence of the Internet and social media platforms have rendered the previously localized notions of context and community even less dependent on geographical proximity and have created an alternative space for people to interact in real time.

Portal asks how increased interconnectivity through digital technology is affecting the way artists are thinking about artistic production and how audiences are being developed, gaining access to, and experiencing new work. Portal's program of events will be hosted in venues and galleries internationally and augmented online, connecting globally dispersed audiences with critical content and to each other through the Portal website.

Beginning in August 2011, Portal will present two simultaneous video art exhibitions, exchanging the work of emerging artists from Sydney and New York. This exchange will be hosted by Regina Rex in Brooklyn, New York, and ICAN in Camperdown, Sydney. The video works from both exhibitions will also be presented online for those who cannot attend in person. Portal sees the position of the "emerging artist" of one generally characterized by its immediate community—connected to place, and largely developed through the social networks that support it. By exhibiting these artists work outside of their local context (e.g. their home city) as well as in a potentially-neutral space online, Portal is testing the idea of a global art community, and whether, specifically, context contributes to the interpretation of the work.

In September 2011, Portal will present a series of internationally-networked performances by artists utilizing social media platforms such as Twitter and Skype as both a subject matter and medium in its own right. These online performances can be experienced in Sydney and New York, through satellite events connecting audiences to this new work, reflexively readdressing the idea of real-time presence and audience participation within performance art.

By presenting all artwork and critical content via online/offline platforms, Portal asks the viewer/reader to reconsider models and trends for "publishing" and how examples of instant publishing such as blogging and social media impact the documentation and subsequent historicisation of artists practices.

Published in Das Superpaper, Sydney, August, 2011.

Project Present, 2010, a participatory performance that invited artists and collectors to trade individual artworks, or $100 in cash, in a White Elephant-style gift exchange game at a satellite commercial art fair during Art Basel Miami Beach. It was performed as a part of #Rank, organized by Jennifer Dalton and William Powhida at Winkleman Gallery during SEVEN, Miami (December 2010).

Stephen Truax, Project Present, 2010. Interactive performance, duration variable.

Project Present, 2010, is a contemporary art trading game intended to highlight the purest transaction in the art world: the Artist Trade. While in the context of the highly consumer- and career-driven environment of the Miami art fairs, artists still have the ultimate way of hedging their bets and maintaining sincerity.

How we assign value to works of art, both personally and financially, will become clear by the end of the game. Does this game sound familiar to you? Project Present’s close relationship with Secret Santa games is not unintentional. Lets not forget what the December art fairs are all about: holiday gifts!

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