Ted Borman at The Miller Gallery
Ted Borman’s astonishing new paintings, Ghost Clouds, are his most evolved work to date. They manage to combine rich references to art history and to contemporary popular culture wittily, intelligently, and seamlessly. Selecting a deliberately faux-naif painting style, Borman’s work is reminiscent of other artists prone to radical reductionism and simplification, from Piero della Franscesca to John Marin and Milton Avery. This nod to neo-primitivism in the paintings equates to Borman’s desire to include as many in the viewing audience as possible, while suggesting that a mainstream painter can step outside tradition, and take the position of the “outsider.” That these paintings succeed is their greatest achievement.
Borman formally manages to have the paintings appear flat and dimensional concurrently. Many of the paintings achieve this formal duality, simplicity within complexity and complexity via simplicity. Dualities are of significant interest to Ted Borman.
Painting tree leaves as daubs or large planes of color also derives from the ideas of early modernism, a gold mine Borman’s work reminds us is still fresh and deep. All of these paintings are based on the landscape tradition of western painting, and the child-like playfulness, exuberance and sheer joy emanating within and from these paintings most remind me of the sylvan/pastoral world of Theodore Rousseau. Borman, like Rousseau, proposes scenes—tableaux vivrants, really—of earthly utopias, earthly delights, Paradise on Earth.
The Ghost Clouds paintings remind us both of the innocence of childhood and the psychological proximity of artistic creativity to unadulterated, pre-meditated childhood dreaminess and unencumbered creativity (Freud’s theories of creativity come immediately to mind in these paintings and their effect/affect on us taps into our neurological pleasure centers, as well as our psychological/intellectual ones). Concurrently, Borman speaks to the liberating freedom of the act of painting, of creating. By routinely intermingling animals roaming the landscape with humans frolicking nude and/or coupling, gorillas holding onto lollipop-like trees and numerous streams and rivers, the compositions include various paths and streams, implying life’s journeys, choices, and forays into human memory and freedom. The entire series seems predicated upon The Garden of Eden before The Fall. But their this-worldly presence demands that we posit the possibility of Paradise here and now. The paintings are thus nonreligious but are lyrically spiritual.
Borman’s Ghost Clouds also pay homage to artists and artistic styles which he most admires and which have clearly influenced his work. We see the thick painterly black linear qualities of German Expressionism, the Classical Italianate landscape and architecture of the Early Renaissance; heroes from the New York School (Abstract Expressionism); Cubism, particularly late Braque, the simplified trees of Soutine. Borman’s fascination with the late painter Bob Thompson liberated the work.
Borman’s palette seems much grander and bolder than it actually is: his compositional strengths and grand juxtapositions make the paintings seem enormous, implying an infinity of open space, felicity, joy. Although referencing and paying homage to tropes in Western Art History, the paintings’ flatness and overlapping narratives give them the more holistic, compositional approaches we associate with non-western culture. They would make wonderful tapestries; their theatricality reminds us of set designs, awaiting actors and dancers. Paintings exuding such optimism and hope are exceedingly rare in contemporary art. They remind us that art can be fun and erudite concurrently.
The numerous paths and streams which criss cross the paintings imply arduous workings and paths of the mind to get to this utopia. As in the best religious traditions, Borman suggests that, as we learn from the past and absorb and integrate many of its ideas, styles, and contributions, we would do well to acknowledge past greatness, and be able to simplify, as Zen koans and gardens do, that knowledge into the playful exuberance which Ted Borman has remarkably achieved in Ghost Clouds, his Epic poem of life.
editor’s note: This essay was commissioned by Ted Borman and The Miller Gallery for the one-person Borman exhibition opening there January 21.
– Daniel Brown