The Unlikely Likeness of Quilts and Monsters: Whiting Tennis at Greg Kucera Gallery

Quilts and monsters would seem to have little to do with one another. Were it not for Seattle artist Whiting Tennis’s show of that title at Greg Kucera Gallery, I doubt the two would have ever come together in my mind. Inside the gallery, the quilt-inspired works stand across the space from the monsters, the two sets of paintings occupying opposing walls, making it seem as though they should be considered separate entities. Spending time among their equally weathered palettes, their rigid, fragmented subjects and their unlikely overlaps, however, I only became more convinced that quilts and monsters do, in fact, belong together.—Erin Langner, Seattle contributor


Whiting Tennis | Quilt #3 (brown quilt) , 2014, acrylic and collage on canvas, 87 x 68 inches. Image courtesy of Greg Kucera Gallery.


Whiting Tennis, Blue Castle, 2014, oil on canvas, 28 x 22 inches. Image courtesy of Greg Kucera Gallery.

The Monster half of Quilts and Monsters in many ways reflects a natural next phase for Tennis’s work. Known for a fondness for the worn, used-up objects that often inform his subjects, the resulting forms the artist creates reside at a distinctly humble intersection between the architectural, the anthropomorphic and the abstract.  


Whiting Tennis | Big Grey Monster, 2014, Oil on canvas, 67 x 50 inches. Image courtesy of Greg Kucera Gallery.


Whiting Tennis | Red Plant, 2014, oil on canvas, 28 x 22 inches. Image courtesy of Greg Kucera Gallery.

Among the most memorable of these past works is the colossal, largely plywood sculpture, Bovine (2006), which fills an entire room with the sense of heft emitted by its bulbous, cow-cum-trailer form. The same sensibility resides among more modest works, such as Crab (2010), a creature that brings to mind the Imperial walkers from The Empire Strikes Back’s Battle of Hoth, its mass perched so lightly atop its triangular legs as to seem moments away from crumbling into a heap. The new Monsters similarly shift their weight and hang in an airy sense of imbalance. The precariousness of Crab inhabits Big Grey Monster’s dangling legs, and Bovine’s weightiness fills the base of Blue Castle. To this end, Tennis entwines fragments of his old old-things into his new ones.


Whiting Tennis | Crab, 2010, Oil on canvas, 44 x 32 inches. Image courtesy of Greg Kucera Gallery.


Whiting Tennis | Quilt Painting, 2013, acrylic and collage on canvas, 132 x 108 inches. Image courtesy of Greg Kucera Gallery.

This weaving of old things and old paintings with new paintings of old things brings us to Tennis’s Quilts. Towering over the Monsters with their oversized canvases, a checkerboard pattern that harkens back to the artist’s fittingly titled painting, Blue Tarp (2007), enshrouds the new works’ surfaces. Unlike Blue Tarp’s vast void, fragmented images flood the new paintings with a mess of specifics—simple line drawings, a dusty mountain, an historic skyscraper. Stretching flatter than a real quilt could ever lay, the paintings unwind the layers compacted into the Monsters, laying bare their pasts, their references, and the calculated disorder that manages to coalesce all of these things into an object that makes sense within this strange world Tennis has created.  It is in the same disjointed, earnest but inexplicable place, that monsters and quilts become one in the same, unraveling the same questions and reveling in the suspended spaces between their answers.


Whiting Tennis | Portrait of P, 2014, acrylic on canvas, with collage, 62 x 43.5 inches. Image courtesy of Greg Kucera Gallery.


Whiting Tennis | Quilt #2 (checkered quilt), 2014, acrylic and collage on canvas, 82.5 x 68 inches. Image courtesy of Greg Kucera Gallery.

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Quilts and Monsters is on view at Greg Kucera Gallery in Seattle, WA through December 24. Whiting Tennis lives and works in Seattle.  He earned his BFA from the University of Washington School of Art. His work has recently been shown at Derek Eller Gallery (New York, NY), the Hallie Ford Museum of Art (Salem, OR), the Orange County Museum of Art (Newport Beach, CA) and the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery (Saratoga Springs, NY), among other locations. Tennis has received numerous awards and fellowships, including the Arlene Schnitzer Prize in the Contemporary Northwest Art Awards, the Neddy Artist Fellowship at the Tacoma Art Museum, and a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant.

Erin Langner is an arts writer and program associate at Seattle Arts & Lectures.

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