Donald Kuspit – June 2010
Dusty Boynton’s works are as timelessly fresh as ever: her inner child remains alive and well in her art. Again and again we see children, often as fantastic as the flowers that accompany them. In one work, Cowgirl, they have luscious, rather womanly red lips and four white teeth, the first adult ones a child might grow after it has lost its baby teeth. There is no bottom row of teeth, confirming the child’s immaturity, even as the florid lips confirm its sexual nature (as Freud showed). Indeed, the flower has become an erotogenic zone, if also an intimidating emblem of vagina dentata, thus bringing the male fear of castration into the unconscious of the picture. The flower is a brilliant dream condensation, an uncanny triumph of imaginative displacement: Boynton dreams herself repeatedly.
The self she dreams is not exactly the happiest of creatures: in several works she’s got a thin (if forceful) streak of black for lips and a pudding face in which her eyes are stuck like berries (blue in one work, black in most of the others). Sometimes she’s an awestruck innocent girl-but always eroticized, as the flamboyant red bow in her hair suggests in Red Bow-and sometimes she’s a mischievous devil, as her menacing horns show in Devil. In both works she has those sexy red lips, and the devil has a full row of upper teeth, without a lower row, indicating she’s far from grown up. Taken as a group, the child “self-portraits” convey ambivalence about life-perhaps nowhere more so than in Memory, in which her lips and nose seem to be covered by a white mask, as though the child was sick, even as the flowers she holds are a healing white. Her identification with them is completed by the white hand that holds them, even as her black mood-melancholy grimness-is confirmed by the black ground from which she emerges, like a hallucination.
When Boynton is not preoccupied with the child-reminding us that “the child is the greatest imaginer,” as Kandinsky said-she attends to the adult family, as in Crowd, which also doesn’t seem particularly happy, except for the happy cat, who looms larger than the human beings. They look like freaks of nature compared to it, as the beak-like noses of some of them suggest. In one work, Gang, they seem to have turned into snarling fighting animals. Couples don’t seem to get along any better, as her portrait of Neil and Mary-they’re butting heads-suggests. Only her animal family, as portrayed in Photo Shoot-a tour de force of caricature-seems content with life, despite the pretty cat who sticks her yellow tongue out at us, and challenges us with her stare, even as she’s held in place by her ape-like, dumb-looking husband. Perhaps her most emotionally telling, imaginatively bold, gesturally intense works are those that deal with death: alive with painterly fire, a phoenix-like bird, Big Choga, defiantly looms over Golgotha, even as it is destined to be crucified, for the cross is the same color as its (disintegrating) body. In another image, entitled Rising-also astonishingly original in its simplicity-two naked children are suspended by the balloon-like black clouds that issue from their minds. They are also bogged down-as well as paradoxically uplifted-by the thought of death, for one stands knee-deep in a black cloud, as though stuck in a boulder. Golgotha looms large and black, however tentatively enlivened by touches of blue, like the pool of hopeful blue in which it stands (like the white flowers in another work)-a child’s idea of Bockllin’s isle of the dead.
Boynton is a masterful colorist and gesturalist, but above all her works are painterly drawings. Drawing and painting-traditionally at odds (thus Poussin contra Rubens, Ingres contra Delacroix)-are seamlessly, even consummately reconciled in Boynton’s works, confirming their modernist character. (Matisse was the first modernist to explicitly call for their integration.) Surface is as important for her as image. Sometimes gesture is there for its own pure sake, sometimes her grand brushwork forms richly textured planes. Sometimes it functions as a mnemonic trace of pure feeling, sometimes as an atmospheric matrix for the image. It is uncannily urgent and ingeniously autonomous-like her often flamboyant color-whatever its pictorial function. Integrating fantasy and purity, Boynton produces memorable works evocative of memories that run deep in all of us.
No doubt her works have the improvised child-like look of Art Informel-especially of the COBRA work of Karel Appel-but they are in a class by themselves because they convey the tragicomic moods and perspective of the child. They do not simply appropriate or copy the “child’s art” look but are spontaneously made by Boynton’s inner child, which remains alive and well however “emotionally enlarged through the greater command of the expression-medium” than a child has, to use the words Hans Hofmann used to distinguish children’s art, “approached through the purely subconscious and emotional,” and subtly eloquent and aesthetically rich adult art, such as Boynton’s