“I paint to keep my head together”
Institute 193 presents, Moses Tolliver: Self-Portraits of Me, on view from February 16 – March 25, 2017, featuring eleven paintings executed in the 1970s and the late 1980s. While his well-known paintings of birds seem naturally to hint at transcendence and freedom, Tolliver’s paintings of himself, in contrast, seem haunted. The most intense self-portraits show red paint dripping from the figure’s lips, strong lines separating the bared, wide-open mouth, poised to scream or perhaps laugh. The gleaming white teeth evoke terror and power. Many figures feature lopsided or misshapen nostrils, eyes are different sizes and have an unnerving effect. Others seem more pacified surrounded by fields of pastel colors. Since the 1970s, Tolliver’s palette has alternated between closely related color harmonies and sharply contrasting tones. Curly hair, buttoned up shirt, pipes, and sometimes, on the top of his head, a decorative, “handle-like” object that the artist called a “head bob” are reminiscent of how Tolliver actually looked. These details mark Tolliver’s grotesque figures as human.