God is a Mushroom Cloud: Paco Pomet, Hesperides, 2020 presented by Richard Heller Gallery


At the end of April, I found myself fully vaccinated, and in LA to drop off some work for a group show.  I was looking forward to gallery hopping, but discovered that virtually everything was still closed, or open by appointment only, which is the same thing when your net worth is less than your tire pressure.  The only oasis I found was Bergamot Station, whose doors were actually open.  There, at Richard Heller Gallery, I saw the work of Paco Pomet, whose canvases kept me circumambulating the room for the better part of 40 minutes in a state of bemused rapture.   Pomet is my favorite kind of painter with virtuosic technique, an encyclopedic visual storehouse, a sense of frustrated mysticism, leavened with a wry visual humor that keeps the ship from sinking into the abyss.

Pomet’s paintings quote vintage photographs of sewing circles, backyard cookouts, mid century classrooms, landscapes, and wartime hospitals in a deft black and white that describes without belaboring the point.   Stitched into each grissailles tableau, however,  is a sultry, orange sun, or brilliant mushroom cloud amidst the quotidian surroundings, and vacantly staring people.  At first, the glowing yellow and orange appears as an almost mystic, Bishop Suger-sque, light of heaven amidst the onlookers, even casting golden halos around the gray figures before them.  After a beat, however, the light reveals itself as a comic rupture of pictorial space-time, an effect that creates a guffaw inducing situational irony as we, the viewers, observe the lucid, terrible, day glow truth of atom bombs, while the inhabitants of the painting stare at a benign truth equally invisible to us, and  innocuous to them.  The chasm between our two realities is stark, and illustrative of the world we now inhabit where neighbors and family look at the same events but see irreconcilably different stories.  Further disconcerting is the displacement of that initial sense of mysticism as the orange glow reveals itself to be disappointingly banal, comic, or apocalyptic–much like the ill fated protagonists of an Eco novel who invent a raison d’etre, then quest after their fantasy, only to meet their demise.  This looking and not seeing, this searching and not finding, this irreconcilable mismatch of perceptions leaves us all signs and no signifieds.   The gaping absence would feel too oppressive…if it weren’t so funny…leading me to the one actual Revelation in Pomet’s work:  we are all damned, and humor is our only redeemer.


Paco Pomet


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