Leon Golub biography
Golub’s artistic education was cut short when he enlisted in the US army in 1942 as a cartographer. The subsequent works he produced as a member of the Chicago Imagist School during the 1950s are aggressive, enormous figures in thick acrylic on linen that pause over a precipice, before diving into violence. With his experiences of WWII and the GI bill in his pocket, Golub made world events and existentialism central to his artwork.
Serpentine exhibition London 2015
Golub turned to increasingly controversial subject matter during his career: works from the 1970s and 80s turned a critical eye on the Vietnam War and the rise of the US military presence in Latin America and South Africa. These violent works, with their scratched surfaces like flayed skin have a striking relationship to Francisco Goya's nightmarish images.
As a young artist, Golub was also greatly influenced by the time he spent in Rome, with the gaze and form of ancient sculptures often appearing in his early work. You'll also find the sphinx throughout this Serpentine show, a mutated hybrid between bestial cruelty and measured benevolence as a comment on humanity.
Leon Golub technique
These early works have a fascinating texture created by thick layers of lacquer, scraped away with dental tools and then with a meat cleaver. Later, Golub became even more liberal with his painting, cutting material and working directly onto the unmounted canvas.
Serpentine exhibition highlights
Don’t miss Golub’s compelling Mercenaries series for which he is best known, where men with contorted facial expressions – both enraged and in pain – are rendered against flat backdrops of burnt red. It's not just war that Golub attacks, these figures that enact violence are highlighted as victims themselves of the system. On all the walls in this enormous central space of the exhibition are traumatic images of violence and torture, including the harassed body of a woman in Interrogation III (1981) and a sinister figure packing a body away in White Square IV (El Salvador) (1983). Looking out from the canvas, the viewer feels like an uncomfortable accomplice in the hideous acts looming across the walls of the gallery.
The later paintings, made in New York in the 1990s, are violent and bestial, with dogs diving through the canvases. For Golub, the dog was a curious metaphor for humanity, as both savage and fiercely loyal. In one harrowing image, the doomed Greek mythological figure Prometheus (1997) has his liver wrenched from his body by an eagle, a solitary figure beside him digging his fingers into his ears.
In his later years Leon Golub paintings turned to more abstract, assemblage-style modes of production. The important late piece Bite Your Tongue (2001), from which the show takes its title, is a monumental picture of a brown dog standing beside what could be a figure about to be executed, next to an image of a face with its mouth covered and the stamp-printed words ‘Loyalty’, ‘Disciple’, ‘Renewal’. The final works just before Golub died in 2004 are smaller and more intimate, driven by satire and an awareness of mortality. In one oil sketch, a wiry skeleton sighs, 'I've got to get myself together'.
In his brazen critique of political sloganeering and exposé of the corrupt moral compass of government, Golub’s work at this contemporary gallery London is an urgent reminder that we must never just bite our tongues.
|What||Leon Golub: Bite Your Tongue, Serpentine Gallery|
|Where||Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens, London, W2 3XA | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Lancaster Gate (underground)|
04 Mar 15 – 17 May 15, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
|Website||Click here for more details|