Some artists are just cut from a separate cloth. Or, at least, that’s the sense you got from last week’s video profile on the homeless artist Anthony Dominguez, by Vice’s Taji Ameen. The video portrays a timid, smiling man who makes complex abstract paintings in the New York Public Library by day and squats in empty well shafts by night. He has a show up now at Clayton Patterson's Outlaw Art Museum on the Lower East Side, so I stopped by.
Gallery-goers in the video keep commending the work for being "clean,” belying certain pre-existing ideas. In person, Clayton noted that it's clear and controlled— not crazy. That runs contrary, I guess, to what people would like to sensationalize about a homeless artist: a person so tormented by the weight of society that all he can do is smear paint around on the canvas with his bare hands.
Instead, Dominguez fills roughly two-feet-wide canvas scrolls with complex overlapping 1930s cartoon-style spaces, which, made only with blocks of black and white, must require hours of planning before the brush is involved. In "Hungery," for example, a fleshy hand in the foreground holds a five dollar bill with one bite taken out of it; behind it, a smaller skeleton hand holds a ten-dollar bill with three bites taken out of it. The foreground is a jumble of food; the background is a jumble of tombstones.
Much of the work incorporates corresponding lines of music, often having to do with the passage of time and objects transforming. An image of a clock eating a gun with a calendar for a muzzle sits beside a few lines of sheet music titled "Calendar." Dominguez writes the music himself, which he plays on a PVC pipe refashioned as a recorder.
Several Escher-like spaces-within-a-space feel like mirrors facing each other. In "Wet Paint," a tiny artist in the upper left corner runs a small blank canvas toward an SUV, from which a larger artist runs with a medium-sized canvas, directly toward a larger canvas which hangs inside an art gallery. Space is delineated by objects growing smaller, figures becoming negatives, and parallel lines. Staccato rain marks outside the window make a frenetic space, while long, smooth black spears on the wall inside create a severe calm.
The intensely graphic quality makes sense coming from someone familiar with brutal extremes. It's a lot like the pitch-black tunnel where Dominguez goes for sanctuary, which, he says, gets a very dramatic shaft of light during the day. He describes it as a cathedral. Clayton tells me that Dominguez thinks of the darkness as the dark light cast by society.
But according to the biography from the American Primitive Gallery, which represents him uptown, homelessness was a conscious choice for Dominguez. A former sign maker, he chose to free himself of his worldly possessions. In the video, he says it's important to him not to be "somebody that’s going to submit to the tyranny that society inundates at you." You want to love anything he makes after hearing that, but it's already in the work.