La MaMa New York
Deborah Buck
INTO THE WILD: To Crash is Divine
Sept 28 – Oct 27, 2023
La MaMa Galleria
Guest curated by Jennifer Baahng

INTO THE WILD:  To Crash Is Divine

Into The Wild presents the pathbreaking, allegorical works of protean painter and ardent colorist Deborah Buck.  It is a focused solo exhibition showcasing nearly two dozen recent works. An exploration into contemporary concerns, the works are incarnations of Buck’s inquiries on social attitudes, culture and blasphemy, and emotional freedom at once personal and universal.  Elegant and polemical, the art included in Into The Wild attests to Deborah Buck’s arrival at a distinctive narrative filled with fantastically Fauvistic personas and cautionary tales.  Colliding secular with the sacred, the exhibition hints at essential codes that unravel the icons and slogans of our time; protest and provoke.  Into The Wild invites a raw and fresh conversation with playful aesthetics, humor, and imprudence.  It is a baroque fantasy fortress that upholds active pursuit and the joy of queueing.

Born in Mount Holly, New Jersey, Deborah Buck grew up on a farm. Her home provided a fertile environment for creative exploration, which led to the distinctively unique, sculpted, archetypical visual motifs later in her art.  In 1975, she attended Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, where, at age 18, she was mentored by Abstract Expressionist Clyfford Still, who told her: “Nobody can teach you to paint – you already know how. But to be taken seriously, you should learn everything about the world around you – religion, politics, design, science.”  She moved to New York City in 1990 and joined the wave of female artists who gained prominence in New York in the 90s.


Into The Wild is Deborah Buck’s response to the absurdity of life.  At the exhibition, first up is an elongated convex wall dedicated to a bizarre, vibrant scene of solo works painted with exuberant colors on 300-pound, hot-pressed Arches paper. The works, each measuring 45 x 55 inches, bear joy, nostalgia, anger, frustration, and love.  They are the ethos of the artist’s thinking and grounding moments: “Bite-Sized,” the virtuoso vision of war; “The Judge,” a sense of primal justice; wacky “House Plants”; “Deep Space Hedges,” the Hamptons; “Coffee (Talk) Clutch;” and “Mr. Nervous,” a possible self-portrait.


Deeper into the exhibition is a forest of wilds; “Throw Me A Bone,” “Pig Never Wins,” and “Royal Flush.”  A march of sexy retro magenta and Barbie pink therianthropes who conjure melancholy and compassion.  The tall feature wall unveils three portraits on wood, embellished with period frames; a laureled threesome: “Widow’s Peak,” “I’m No Angel,” and “Dark Roots.”  As part of Buck’s new and ongoing series of portraits of contemporaries, these harken back to the inventor of Cubism, Pablo Picasso’s perspective on abstraction and deconstruction.  Both artists paint their thoughts rather than what they see.


The apotheosis of the exhibition is Deborah Buck’s eclectic tour-de-force murals: “Heavy is the Head” and “The Eyes Have It.”  Striking and enormous, the two murals, which mirror each other and occupy the vast main gallery, are cinematic spectacles depicting nuanced performers, unleashed, intense, and intimate.  They contain shifting facades, overlapping planes, and fragmented, condensed flat surfaces that snap into surprisingly coherent compositions, a conference of pictorial intelligence.  A visual constant in the murals is the strands of pearls, which signify the currency and the agency women hold.   

“Heavy Is the Head” is a commemorative majesty that commands the first wall in the main gallery, comprised of a half dozen of the artist’s solo works cut and collaged.  At about 5 feet tall and 13 feet wide, it is a Surrealist dreamscape of a free-flowing connection to wisdom and knowledge passed down generations of women saints and personages: After Botticelli, Queen Elizabeth I, Empress Dowager Cixi, Venus of Willendorf, Cleopatra, a Bedouin woman, a futuristic female robot, and the artist herself.

“The Eyes Have It” is a multifaceted phosphorous display that commands the second wall.  Also, at about 5 feet tall and 13 feet wide, it contains fragmented visuals that insist on conjecture to be fathomed.  The symbols range from the alchemical to the astrological and the heretical to the folklore.  Grand and engrossing in its spatial genres, the mural is born from the artist’s dozen solo works that were chopped and coalesced back – “The Mechanical Girl and Her Mechanical Dog,” “Easter Bunny Bandit,” “In the Land of Peacock Trees,” “Proud Parents,” and “Enchanted Forest” – and dares us to see the complexity of the objects and ideas in the work.  Notable is the extravagant staging and devising within the flat, two-dimensional work.  Reminiscent of Japanese manga and anime that uses flat planes of color to emphasize the surface, à la Superflat by Takashi Murakami, the mural reinforces Deborah Buck’s commentary on culture with little distinction between ‘high’ and ‘low.’


Into The Wild is a wild west, where convention and fiat are unchained and released, and the world’s traditional satire and viral lampooning are surpassed.  Alluding to Hieronymus Bosh’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” the exhibition is a three-wall-triptych of drawings and murals of fantastical figures and anthropomorphic forms, and portraitures, living on Abstract Expressionistic dripping and scuffed-up grounds.  Combining abstraction and surrealism, Deborah Buck creates rich narratives and invented creatures that quiver with life amongst dreamlike landscapes and allegorical scenes imbued with meaning and emotion.  Through her masterful employment of sumi ink and skilled craftsmanship, she advocates the value of discourse on femininity and identity.  The exhibition is a glimpse into the elusive conquest of making the world to our liking.  Into The Wild is a clever farce that joyously upends normality and delivers infectious glee.  And Deborah Buck relishes being a renegade

Dr. Jennifer Baahng, Guest Curator


Categories: exhibitions