It's My Job To Be A Girl
Zak Smith and William T Vollmann
When I first read William T Vollmann—in the summer, in Brooklyn, reading his dispatches from Serbia, completely absorbed, sweating into someone else’s beanbag chair—I never dreamed we’d be having an art show together. But here we are.
If you’re in San Francisco: show up. Come to the opening, we will keep it weird.
The official press release (which I didn't write and neither did William T):
Zak Smith and William T. Vollmann It’s My Job to Be a Girl
Jan 24 - Mar 7, 2015 Reception: Sat Jan 24 6pm - 9pm
Steven Wolf Fine Arts presents an exhibition of paintings by Zak Smith and photos and paintings by William T. Vollmann.
Steven Wolf Fine Arts presents “It’s My Job to Be A Girl”, an exhibition of paintings by Zak Smith and photos and paintings by William T. Vollmann.
Smith is best known for opulent, colorful portraits of friends in the porn business, sometimes loosely laid out in comic book panels. The girls are situated in twilit interiors with an overabundance of visual information. Complex surfaces weave together the flatness of fin-de- siecle ornament with elongated sci-fi depths. The presence of miniature Zak Smith abstractions inside Zak Smith figurative paintings provides a sardonic echo of art-historical dialogue. A dark hint of technology permeates the scenery through artificial light and microscopic detail, implying the presence of a camera even when none is acknowledged. That and the volatile mix of sex and labor make the paintings read like vivid reports on employment and intimacy from the very near future.
For the novelist William T. Vollmann, this is the first time his visual art has been presented in a gallery. The exhibition will feature self- portraits of the artist performing various notions of femininity, muddying the terrain of sexuality, alongside images of women, prostitutes in particular, that he has befriended in war zones and red light districts during research for his journalism and fiction.
Vollmann began to dress up as a woman with the idea that he could imagine richer female characters, but the performances soon took on a life of their own. He clearly revels in constructing Dolores, the melancholy name he gave to his chunky female alter ego. Not only is she a fetish-y escape route from the confines of masculinity, but a chance to embody the oppressed, as opposed to simply representing it, which Vollmann has done for many years in his writing.
Readers of Vollmann’s dense, layered prose will not be surprised by the abstruse and archaic formal techniques in his photography. Many of the portraits in the show are printed using gum bichromate, a tricky and laborious 19th-century chemical process that takes several days to complete but produces luminous images in washy pastel colors. In Vollmann’s pictures of prostitutes, there are no voyeuristic odes to heroin chic. His camera captures these women through a lens of erotic curiosity and deep moral compassion.
At first glance Vollmann’s paintings seem like a happy vacation from the brutal frontality of his photographic work. In one collection of watercolors called Capp Street Girls, bruised, misshapen prostitutes in dream states are delineated by an unpredictable line amidst the busy decor of hot-bed hotels. Legs are spread and bodies are stretched. Flesh is splotched with quirky colors. But these paintings also harbor a deep sympathy for the outcast and a disdain for the hypocritical moral boundaries that protect some women from the perils of the harsh world others are forced to inhabit.