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Tom Colcord's "The Maximalist" on view at Headlands Center for the Arts

By Nathan Foxton

Tom Colcord’s Tournesol Award Exhibition “The Maximalist” opened June 26th in the Project Space at Headlands Center for the Arts. There are over 60 pieces in the substantial space, with some large paintings commanding attention across the room and others requiring more intimate inspection. As a recipient of the prestigious Tournesol Award, Colcord has had a studio at the Headlands for the past year while showing in San Francisco.

There are a few terms the viewer should be aware of to understand Colcord’s work; every label has a history of debate which it carries with it. The first is maximalism, which is a literary and visual arts movement defined by excess (more is more), elaboration of detail, sensuality, luxury, and fantasy. Colcord is clearly a maximalist. The second term is magical realism which is a literary and visual arts genre that presents a real world with varying degrees of fantastical elements. This second term is helpful in considering Colcord’s work in total, conceptually. The third is surrealism, which is a cultural movement intended to allow the unconscious mind to express itself bypassing the logic of everyday life. I would argue that Colcord is not a surrealist in presentation, but is more interested in it as a vehicle for process.

An important distinction to make in contrasting the terms is where surrealism is often explicitly from the inner world, magic realism places the burden of proof on the viewer to determine where the line of probability is. I think rather than try to build a bridge between Colcord and Dali or Magritte (even though it's tempting stylistically), it would be more fruitful to compare him to Bruce Naumann’s connection to surrealism. I think it’s important to keep in mind Naumann and the dadaists' approach to objects when considering Colcord’s approach to the framework of his paintings. Tom isn’t so much interested in depicting objects he paints surrealistically, the object reality of his paintings is surreal.

"Approaching the Nature House." Oil on canvas 12” x 12” 2022

On first encounter the display of work in the over 1,600 sq. ft exhibition space offers an abundance of work for the viewer to be drawn into. Colcord is very facile, and he has given visitors a copious amount to consider for having been there for a year. The plein air pieces and collages are usually smaller and display his sensitive touch. The larger pieces invite the viewer into a sense of grandeur represented by architectural conventions or as mystical distillations of nature that borders on the cosmic. Another sense of curiosity develops when considering the exhibition as a whole.

"Lunar Dasein." Oil on canvas 60” x 40” 2022

The open space of the exhibition allows for an abstract comparison of shape and color between the smaller and larger works. It creates a connection. Because it’s a maximalist show, I’m not sure essentialist shape comparison has the capacity to carry and connect the content of the show in its entirety. If the connection between the pieces isn’t spelled out, maybe it’s up to us to decide what’s ‘real’ and what’s not. Regardless, the quality of the large pieces hold their own. Paintings like "Lunar Dasein" and "My Thoughts Are Not Mine" are intensely developed.

At the same time Bruce Naumann was channeling Dada in the bay area, Lucy Lippard was articulating how post-minimalists were incorporating sensuous and exotic elements of surrealism into their non-objective art. There are absolutely ways in which abstract material elements can help bind a body of work through the vehicle of surrealism.

"The Maximalist" allows for an open read. Being an artist is often mysterious. I think to move forward as an artist, you have to entertain a degree of openness with play, even a sense of exploration. I'm compelled by Colcord’s paintings because he wants to see the magic in reality, and I’d say that’s a genuine search that has held true for the past decade. I believe he wants to take us on the journey.

The exhibition closes Sunday July 17th. There is an Instagram live walkthrough with Tom Colcord and critic Glen Helfand on July 7th.

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