Simone Subal Gallery is pleased to present Thomas Lerooy’s solo exhibition For your eyes only opening on Thursday, February 16th. This is Lerooy’s first solo presentation with the gallery.
Thomas Lerooy, well-known for his decades-long sculptural practice, presents new works stemming from his relatively recent foray into painting. This series of distorted portraits shares continuity with his surrealist, sculptural poetics, yet offers a level of plasticity that is more readily accessible through his painting practice. By melding traditional art historical styles of portraiture with contemporary and personal concepts of advertising, voyeurism, and play, Lerooy’s imagery bears an unusually poignant and playful sentiment rendered in a style uniquely his own. He pulls visual snippets from both traditionally “high” and “low” cultural spheres, ranging from Courbet and Renoir, to the drapery of fabrics pulled tight across the bodies of reality TV stars in fashion magazines. The resulting works often feel imbued with a sense of familiarity, but are ultimately unplaceable.
Evocative of guests attending a surrealist masquerade ball, several of Lerooy’s coquettish subjects coyly engage a viewer behind masks of waxy anthurium petals, chalky seashells, and brightly colored feathers. Lerooy never permits a full face to be visible, often employing humorous and absurd motifs to partially conceal his subjects. In Eye Love You, 2023, a Rococo-like beauty is simultaneously obscured and revealed by a trail of milky snail slime, while in Bubble gum, 2023 a woman’s face is seen through a translucent yellow balloon filled with writhing snakes. Nodding loosely towards the interpretive logic of allegories and fables, Lerooy uses these motifs to create a calculated distance between subject and viewer, and in doing so often calls attention to the surface of the painting itself.
A permeable barrier can be felt between the viewer’s world and the world within Lerooy’s subject matter – akin to glimpsing another through a pane of glass or in the reflection of a cloudy mirror. This separation refuses a viewer’s ability to escape completely into the imagery; the fourth wall is broken and the act of voyeurism is emphasized. While partial information and a feeling of connection with Lerooy’s subjects can be garnered, the “truth” of a figure’s total subjectivity remains murky. This intentional obscurity points to there being something inaccessible about each subject; something inherently unknowable behind the eyes of any person that one may encounter in life, whether a stranger, a close friend, or a lover. Rather, this unfulfilled desire for connection comprises Lerooy’s love language. His use of flora and fauna equally points to this distance between subject and viewer – humans have the ability to relate to other living creatures on some level, but complete, mutual understanding is beyond the scope of possibility.