Amy Sillman, The Umbrian Line (#4), 1999-2000, gouache on paper, 14 × 18½ inches. All images courtesy of Brent Sikkema Gallery.

I don’t know what they mean, but blassive and glisstic, bloculate and perhaps indevalent are good words to describe Amy Sillman’s paintings. Her cranic images are very phoughty. The words are from a list she painted down the center of a painting called Shield (1997). They are handprinted with proud singularity, along with more words like fadgy, neglitive, poetile, and appuded, stacked from the top of the painting to the bottom, their prefixes estranged from the suffixes by a green and yellow division. The expressive strangeness and comic indefinability of the words are felicitous. Describing Sillman’s paintings is a peculiar challenge because her images are unlikely hybrids with many idiosyncratic details. They feel tender and vulnerable while paradoxically resisting description. That Shield’s neologisms have a protective function is suggested by the carefully lettered insults, like coward, hypocrite, cutesy, and daft, that cover the background.

Her new paintings promote rangy analogies with people, maps, gardens, and diagrams in swoony alternation. They are ravishing, wounded and raving while retaining a high degree of poised formality. Narratives are kindled from the assembled elements; paint daubs accumulate with mosaic density to blossom into foliage, architecture or crowds of former lovers. Sillman’s paintings have a strong personality expressed by loquacious jocularity and confessional intimacy. A radiant brightness saturates her painted atmospheres; horizons curl onto themselves and hapless protagonists are imprinted by anxieties and longings.

Calling ourselves Team SHaG, Elliott Green and I made collaborative paintings with Amy. We were able to enter each other’s painted worlds and do things that ordinary spectators can only do imaginatively. We came to know how Sillman’s paintings so buoyantly invite engagement in their generous and habitable spaces and pervasive subjectivity. It is an accomplishment of style for a painting to suggest what comes more naturally to literature–a sense of living in someone else’s mind.

The mind of these paintings is singular and clusterfucked, splendid and demented. Sillman’s work encourages us to marvel at the ways we can be fascinating strangers, even to ourselves.

—David Humphrey

Amy Sillman, The Umbrian Line (#1), 1999–2000, gouache on paper, 13¼ x 19½ inches.

Amy Sillman, Skirmishes of an Untimely Nature, 2000, oil on canvas, 72 × 84 inches.

Figurative art
Summer 2000
The cover of BOMB 72