Awkward Moments

Appearing in multiples, the bodies inhabit bizarre surrealistic landscapes. They seem to wander headless around the canvas, searching for something concrete. But the naked, often distorted figures don’t provide any answers. These topsy-turvy scenes are Tom Torluemke’s creations, now on display at the Co-Prosperity Sphere in Bridgeport.

If you decide to see Torluemke’s exhibition, be prepared for a visceral reaction. With the exclusion of his black and white drawings, looking at his work is a little like riding a rollercoaster–the outlandish nature of the experience is enough to push the viewer outside of his or her comfort zone, strutting the fine line between curiosity and nausea. His paintings and sculptures teem with color–overexcited blues collide with saturated pinks–and when his swirls of color combine on the big canvases and wooden sculptures, the gallery appears a bit like a scene from Alice in Wonderland. Like his favorite artists Tintoretto and Otto Dix, Torluemke is skilled at creating a crude, albeit surrealistic mood via pigment.

To create these worlds, Torluemke avoids beginning a painting in the same way twice. “Starting a painting differently forces me to be really pure with everything,” he says. “I have to struggle through it because it’s all new to me.” For some paintings, he draws out the whole design with his eyes closed and then paints within the contours he has created, like a coloring book. Other times, he begins by painting large colored shapes on the canvas. As the shapes start to develop, he’ll turn those forms and colors into imagery of some sort. Oftentimes, this development is accompanied by the creation of a narrative, but Torluemke uses stories only to inform the process of making his art, not to aid the viewer in interpreting it. The result, he says, is that the audience experiences a valuable kind of ambiguity when looking at his paintings.

Torluemke’s drive to create vulgar and often inscrutable paintings might stem from his interest in “[making] you understand how uncomfortable things can be in life.” One of his very small, cut-out pieces is particularly successful at this. It features a cut-out man’s head facing the open, exposed lower body of a woman. You can walk around the piece, as though engaging in the act of looking at the woman’s nether regions yourself. In this piece, Torluemke invites you to involve yourself in some form of confrontation; you are witness to and participant in the vulgarity on display.
Perhaps this act sums up the exhibition as a whole–Torluemke’s paintings are far from being easy to look at and even harder to digest. They are sometimes unsightly, maybe even repulsive, but curious nonetheless. Co-Prosperity Sphere. 3219-21 South Morgan St. Through October 14. Wednesdays, 1-7pm; Friday-Saturday, noon-5pm. (773)837-0145. coprosperitysphere.org