There is an unsettling lack of inhibition in Doe’s paintings. They are overloaded with sexual symbols, tropes and innuendos and it’s not a comfortable mix—they are hot and bothered—I don’t find in them the ironic stance I’ve come to expect from a contemporary painter, nor does he overwhelm or cover up the disturbing imagery with pseudo-classical technique.
Vivaldi… features a pudendum with a lacy frill framed in a Victorian balloon back chair. It’s hard to take your eyes off it (well, at least my eyes.) It belongs to a bassoonist, so far, so good, a lacy bowtie to remind you of what’s below and then the totally mismatched head of an old-fashioned cocktail waitress taking a break with a drink and a cigarette. I recognize that look from being a bartender. All night nicey-nicey to the customers but horribly, ineffably bored. And there’s the rub: am I the greedy consumer of sex and music or the tired waitress or something else—a memory of someone who didn’t enjoy me as much as I enjoyed them, or vice versa?
The musician reminded me of “Some Like It Hot”: Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis escape the mob by dressing in drag and joining an all-female band. Do you remember the last line of the movie?
Might even the most well-adjusted person identify with Performer? There is definitely a vulnerable child walking around in my body. But then I find it very disturbing that the arm is cobbled together. My eye is torn between the atmospheric satin blouse with the beaded necklaces, the face of the child, and trying to fix that arm.
I think there is a strategy here. There are awkwardly painted areas (the intact arm) and flat somewhat off-putting colors (like the green curtain) that send me back to the beautifully painted blouse and I keep trying to reconcile the relative sizes, move the trumpet player back a little, get caught in the burnt sienna folds between the legs. It’s a little frustrating and very exciting to search the painting in this way.
A Game… is a strange combination of pathetic sado-masochistic role playing and a very beautiful shepherdess framed in sunlight, also some other stray parts, also my father wore that exact same Florsheim shoe—an uncomfortable thought.
Doe has been accused of objectifying women. There is harshness and anger here for sure and a love/hate relationship with the constraints of male/female identity, but I think I began to understand and like the paintings better when I saw their bewildering profusion of sexual stereotypes as internalized.
I’m angry myself at the confining gender roles, forced down our throats from the moment we are born. A few years ago I volunteered at a school library. It was horrifying: girl’s books, boy’s books, the children entered and left the space in lines according to their gender. Somehow, I thought it had gotten better but it hasn’t.
The psychologist Alice Miller suggested that the homosexual tries to reconcile conflicting sexual roles in their own body. I dunno. I think I just like the girls, but I’ve never forgotten the idea.
And the heterosexuals also seem to twist themselves into unnatural positions.
In Doe’s work there is almost always only one body, as if he is grafting the various personae in an effort to reconcile them or at least accept them. They are very human monsters. He picks apart and chooses the parts from clothing catalogues, pulp fiction, romance and crime and the history of painting and combines them à la the Exquisite Corpse game.
(As an aside though, I think painters should paint how they feel and what they see. I remember watching Pasolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, feeling appalled and at some point realizing this a film and the real world is far far worse.)
Ever since the “Cubism and the Art of Trompe l’Oeil” show at the Met, I’ve been thinking about how much illusion plays a part in painting. In Cross Town and other paintings, Doe makes it obvious how much of his imagery is collaged—that is a form of distancing too: the push pins, the clip, the painter’s tape. The pink dress is deftly stroked and forms the heart of this painting. The woman thrusts herself forward, gamely holding on to the dress and seems to be defending herself either from assault or from the charge of leaving behind all these broken men. Is it her fault?
The most tender coherent painting in the show is Head On. It is lush and louche and painted in a spontaneous burst—the landscape is particularly beautiful. It can be seen either as the sexual fantasy of the viewer torn between desiring the girl or the woman— or as the mature adult woman’s fantasy of herself. There is a delicate balance between objectifying and identifying.
A couple of guys have asked me if it’s ok to like Doe’s paintings. Yeah, go ahead.