Renaissance oils are not the first thing that come to mind at mention of the Los Angeles art scene – and this is the first place that painter Tim Smith, known as TV5D, directs me. His recently completed Titled is propped against the studio wall, taller than both of us, and Tim claims Jacopo Tintoretto’s The Miracle of St Mark Rescuing a Slave as a primary source of inspiration. Tintoretto’s 1548 work tells the story of a slave who leaves the sovereignty of his king to see religious idols in Venice – a crime for which the king orders other slaves to exact punishment on the deserter. St. Mark descends from the Heavens to rescue the noble slave, bridging the earthly divide.
Tim explains with glee his fascination for Tintoretto’s two circles, the heavenly world of enlightenment and the material world of slavery and suffering. Of Titled, he says, “I was blown away by the idea of the two choices and I wanted to do my own non-religious, contemporary version of that same thing.” The enigma of the binary is palpable in every TV5D scape, but equally as critical are small but inescapable details that ambiguously link inverse worlds – indeed, the worlds are enslaved to each other. In The Birth of Civilization, a snaking chain binds the driver, sans car, to the caged fornicating couple. Temporality and causality are undone.
Signs of Life lacks an actual chain, but playfully pokes fun at the generic symbols meant to govern human behavior. Tim explains, “The people in the signs represent conceptual man, conceptual woman, conceptual handicapped person, conceptual man on fire, it’s all these generic symbols that make up our idea of reality. Everything is simplified, without any personality or identity. Generic, blank slate human. And it’s kind of strange because I live in reality where people do have uniqueness. They come in different sizes and shapes and some have piercings and tattoos and funny hats.” The sign-people march ant-like to the movies, further mutating the contours of symbolic terrain.
Why does TV5D think humans relegate themselves to binary existence? “It’s the simplest form of communication. It’s direct and it’s fast. And it’s the best way we can interpret the universe I think. Green means go, red means stop. When you’re driving at forty miles an hour and you have to rely on all these quick codes, there’s no time for distinguishing the details, ” Here lies a basic quandary that haunts us across disciplines: if the distillation of life into symbolic form and clean binary shapes our existence in a very real way, how do we escape slavery?
The paintings of TV5D offer up temporality as a key mechanism for sidestepping the meaninglessness packaged into the postmodern morass. Using symbols that can be recognized across social stratifications and a legible, cinematic narrative approach, TV5D’s worlds manage to employ and negate the power of traditional modes of storytelling. And the rethinking of time and its representations is not just for artists and recreational mad scientists anymore – “narrative phenomenology”, a term coined by USC professor Cheryl Mattingly, is emerging across disciplines including anthropology and social work. Not to mention media execs itching to capitalize on newly forged and to-be-forged concepts of experience, narrative, and socializing.
Tim tells me that “Civilization has been directed in one linear path, and that’s what tunnel vision is – but this is Tumble Vision.”