SYRUP OF THE HAND / Jonathan VanDyke 

Opening: Sunday, March 10, 4-6pm

On view March 10-24, 2013

Syrup of the Hand is the second presentation of a two-part exhibition, Sweats of a Hippo, organized by Daisy Nam, inspired by an incident in 1944; Jean Dubuffet's painting unexpectedly revealed its materiality and process.


Court Square is pleased to present Syrup of the Hand, a special project created for the space by Jonathan VanDyke and curated by Daisy Nam. In his new photographs, paintings, and video, VanDyke articulates painting as a performed, collaborative medium: each piece comes about through intensive experimentation with mediums and multiple authors. Looming around the work is the desiring, emotive figure of the maker/performer: the "syrup of the hand" being the viscous stuff of liquid paint while also referencing bodily fluids and subconscious energies. 

VanDyke engages with forms from interior design, fashion, and craft traditions to examine the slippages in categories of making. In this process, there is a move to alter the myths of modernist painting, where the singular artist's inner emotions and desires are expressed through grand gestures and actions. VanDyke subverts this narrative through an immersive process with his collaborators, including performers, models, costume designers, photographers. Through each step, the collaborator's input in the works is retained, leaving traces of his or her own hand and identity.

The paintings in Syrup of the Hand, while abstract at first glance, came about through VanDyke's long-term collaboration with the dancers Bradley Teal Ellis and David Rafael Botana, who are also a couple. VanDyke provides a score for the men to perform atop raw canvas: in the case of these works, they enacted sequences of submission and domination while paint dripped from their clothes. A green canvas (David dominating Bradley) and orange canvas (Bradley dominating David) were then meticulously cut into pieces, interwoven in a "harlequin" pattern, and given to a costume designer, who sewed them back together. The harlequin, as a figure, captured the fascination of painters such as Picasso, Cezanne, Degas, and writers like Apollinaire. Representing freedom and otherness, the harlequin could shift personas of a clown and a witty trickster. In these paintings, the suturing of the self and other in one object allows the coexistence of multiple identities.

Like the harlequin, the models in the new photographic work The Pointillists play and perform. Wearing the uniforms of nurses, caterers, and lab technicians – along with paint-splattered costumes from VanDyke's live performances – two young models strike poses, suspended in an indefinite space that resembles the format of wallpaper. In each pose the models hold white dots as a way to mark. We are invited to take a closer look at their poses as they express multiple narratives. Desires and imagination can be free here, suggesting the impossibility of fixed identities even in the most controlled environments.

For the video Color Works, VanDyke worked with students at a performing arts high school in York, Pennsylvania. Officials from York City, a formerly prosperous factory town, provided him with access to an abandoned paint factory, its rooms stained by different colors in accordance with the pigments once produced there. VanDyke directed the group of teenagers to create a set of games, rituals, and dances through which they would mark each other's clothing and bodies, and the empty factory space, with liquid paint. The boisterous, physically-charged performance of the youth, both exuberant and violent, suggests that the impulse to mark and make is an act of communal pleasure and shared labor where the boundaries of relationship are imperiled and vivified.


Jonathan VanDyke received his MFA from Bard College and also studied at the Skowhegan School and the Glasgow School of Art. In 2011 he performed the solo projectThe Long Glance at the Albright Knox Art Gallery. He created a new piece for Performa 2011 in New York, and was recently commissioned to present new works at The Power Plant in Toronto and Vox Populi in Philadelphia. He will present a solo show at Scaramouche in New York this May. VanDyke is the recipient of an Artists and Communities grant from the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, a Joan Mitchell Foundation grant, and a Visiting Artist Fellowship from the University of Chicago. His exhibitions have been reviewed in Art Forum, Time Out New York, White Hot, artslant, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Art Papers, and The Buffalo News, and he has been featured in the Introducing section of Modern Painters.

All works appear courtesy Scaramouche Gallery, NYC.


"Sweats of the Hippo"
February - March, 2013

In 1944 Jean Dubuffet gave Jean Paulhan one of his recent paintings as a gift. Several days later it began to melt. Dubuffet was amused "by these adventures, which he characterized as hippo sweats." Despite his research in using experimental materials, the work proved to be unstable under certain circumstances. Persisting to perfect the consistency of the paint, Dubuffet tried once again giving another painting to replace the gift. The painting began to sweat, again.

Inspired by this anecdote, the artists participating are interested the indeterminacy of the materials that they are working with. The process is just as much part of the work. Examining beyond the material of paint, the artists included here work in an array of mediums from installation to film to performance. Through their presentations, they examine dialectics of making, across mediums and methodologies, and ultimately experiencing.