During the early 1960’s in America, there were two kinds of Artists; ‘popular artists’ and Llyn Foulkes. While Wharhol was silk-screening soup cans and Lichtenstein was using oil and magna paint, Foulkes was incorporating macabre materials in his paintings, distorting his subject matter,chopping them up, and thinking well past his contemporaries.
Foulkes (b.1934) attended the Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts) and began exhibiting with the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles (1959). He had his first one-man exhibition there in August 1961. By the next year he “….was out of Ferus, but I got the show at the Pasadena Art Museum (1962) I had entered my stuff. I had 92 things. I had the blackboard and chair, I had really important early pieces, really a knockout show, 92 things in it. It was the first time, I think, Dennis Hopper, George Herms and Wally Berman, and all those people had seen my stuff. It had a lot of crosses and a lot of black things, eerie black and assemblage stuff and all this, plus dripping things, and even a dead possum like that dead cat up there, thrown at a blackboard.”
His imagination, creative process, and obsession with his art is the subject of this documentary. Two particular pieces, “The Lost Frontier” (1997-2004) and “The Awakening” (1994-2012) are the central focus of the film. The film spans between 2004-2012 and the audience is taken through the many trials and errors it takes Foulkes to create his art. We quickly discover that his imagination for the macabre is so prevailent it draws you into another world. Likewise, his obsession to complete it practically overtakes him. “I’m never done with a painting until they take it away from me, I just have to do the best I can until they take it away.” When working on “The Lost Frontier” the first thing he did every morning was go look at the piece. He can’t stop working on it and this incessant need to give the piece attention brings him to a point in the film where all he wants to do is get rid of it!
Set in Los Angeles, “The Lost Frontier” uses an assemblage of various materials which pop outward thereby creating real shadows, not painted ones. Every single piece is carefully examined and just one little change effects the whole piece. It’s no different for “The Awakening.” Because Foulkes is an artist who constantly changing his mind, his works “The Awakening” and “Bedroom” both go through many manifestations.
During this period, Foukles’ marriage was falling apart and we see in the film how he tries to solve this through his work. Instead, his obsession ends up destroying his marriage, ending in divorce. As his personal life changes, so does the work, particularly “The Awakening” or what he calls,’the unfinished picture’ “It’ll never be finished because it’s like life,you regret this, you didn’t do this, your life is never finished. It will be finished when they take it away from me.” They refering to those who would put it in a gallery. When it does finally come time to do so, Foulkes sturggles with the question of whether or not his art will become “corporate art” used as “real estate” in the art world. He contemplates whether he has become the very thing he is against.
For an artist, it’s a dream to be discovered and have other human beings recoqnize your art and be effected by it. Llyn Foukles: One Man Band is a portrait of an artist that defied contemporary ideas and images but was relentlessly seeking artistic truth. He would constantly pursue that truth as in “the Awakening” , which in the end, was finally sold and taken away. Perhaps for his own good.