P.P.O.W Gallery is “tickled sanguine” to be presenting the latest opus from Thomas Woodruff, master alchemist/imagist painter of the arcane, perverse, and popular. The new group of paintings is called The Four Temperament Variations, and it is his eighth solo exhibition with the gallery since 1989. Woodruff is a conceptual artist who uses traditional figurative painting techniques, archetypal formats and hybrid visual vocabularies from history to create contemporary “structures of contemplation” in the form of elaborative paintings in series. Woodruff’s content has explored issues of health, emotion, and personal discovery.
In Thomas Woodruff’s latest body of work, he tackles the four temperaments as well as the painterly figurative genres of portrait, still-life, landscape, and wild life in his variations. Using his highly cross-referenced pictorial mash-up of visual motifs, this series is a celebration of the emotional value of color, the storytelling potential of character and costuming, and a contemporary revision of the enigmatic mysteries of our collective past. He creates his own beasts, including the “quadicorn” and the “batterfly” and weaves threads from animae, steampunk, and body modification culture into these grand, fabulist images as well as his encyclopedic knowledge of art and fashion history.
The Four Temperaments Variations were inspired by the theories of Hippocrates, around 400 BC, when wise men believed everyone’s body and mind were controlled by four different, mysterious, colored fluids: Sanguinic, Choleric, Melancholic, and Phlegmatic. Imbalance or overabundance of the fluids would cause disease or pre-described behaviors. Treatment would usually involve bleeding, cupping, herbs, and emetics. During the Renaissance this theory was revised to include ideas of temperature. In the Age of Reason, aspects of physiognomy were brought into play, and today many pop psychologists and dating services still find the personality traits useful tools for getting along and finding love.
For many artists, the idea of the humors continues to inspire as models for our emotions and behavior, as a model of the stages of man, and a tidy way of organizing what is ill or well within us all. The Mannerist Jacopo Pontormo used the temperaments to frame his portraits of the evangelists gospel authors. The eccentric engraver Lavater used the characteristics in his visual lexicons on appearances. The Danish composer Carl Nielsen created his Symphony #2 as a meditation on the theme. And of course, there is the modernist masterpiece composed by Paul Hindemith and choreographed by George Balanchine.
Over the years, Woodruff has worked as an artist, illustrator, educator, and curator. He has designed works for theatre, dance, opera, and television, and has worked as a tattooist. He has been a Chair at the School of Visual Arts in New York City for the past 12 years and continues to inspire young artists with his eccentric, visually complex, and visionary paintings. His works have included: The Turning Heads 2008; Freak Parade 2000-2006; All Systems Go 1999; Apple Canon 1997; and The Secret Charts 1995. This is Mr. Woodruff’s 31st solo exhibition in his thirty year career. His work is in public and museum collections all over the world.