“This entire show is really about starting with one little, tiny thing and taking that and building on it, and building on it,” said Lisa Yuskavage last week at a preview of her new show at David Zwirner in New York.
Yuskavage, known for her alluring female nudes, now welcomes a new body into her work: the male figure. This series took two years to complete, and is heavily infused with cangiantismo—a method perfected in the Renaissance era by Michaelangelo that offers deliberate, subtle color in areas to depict supernatural, emotional, or psychological charges. A slight shift in every hue and shade sets an undertone of supernatural spirits. Incubi and succubi (sexual demons known in folklore for their responsibility to seduce) interject themselves as the main theme of the show, bouncing between, and taking turns in role, between the men and women.
The exhibition includes paintings, sketches, and an added bonus: some of her large-scale pastels. “I guess I technically invented something with my print-making partner, Bill Goldston,” she said, on the topic of the unique inkjet grounds she developed after growing tired of the standard size and color of paper she had been using.
Yuskavage is known to not paint men because, as she once said, they were “too tame.” But for this series, she explained, “They came to me and I didn’t push them away.” In the second room of the gallery are paintings of men, some with their pants half down, and some coupled with their partners.
Bonfire is a large work stretched to encompass two canvases side-by-side that tell a story in an eerie emerald green. Two women sit in peace on opposite sides, with their backs turned to one another. In the background you can see a line of women waiting to beaten a hulking figure beside a bonfire. “There’s something really frightening about that—that everyone is getting in line to wait their turn,” Yuskavage said.
In the next room, one wall is full of sexual charge. “What we have now is this lovely man, Dude Looks Like Jesus, being protected by his two female counterparts,” she said, ushering us toward three paintings, and pointing to the male painting in the center. “They’re there to make you want them… and think things… See? He’s so elegant even though his junk is hanging out.”
“I finished with these two couples,” she said in the next room, confessing that they were drawn from some old nudist magazines of hers. Motioning to a set of two paintings of lovers, she took time to describe the difference in their relationships. One pair is full of playfulness, while the other is full of curiosity and infatuation. “Being part of a couples is sort of an interesting thing to depict.” A relationship was “not to be corny,” she said, but something that one should also “not make light of.”
Yuskavage concluded with pointing Lovers, saying, “I really wanted to depict that emotional charge of becoming. They’re very different, but their effect on each other… Her color is changing here with his touch, and he is changing with hers, and he looks very concerned about that.”
Each painting, sexually charged, emotionally expressive, and psychologically stimulating, voiced interesting implications—many of which unlocked a narrative of fear, aggression, beauty, lust, and for a lucky few, love.
“Lisa Yuskavage” is on view at David Zwirner in New York through June 13.