bruce tapola: the velvety cloak of twilight

Bruce Tapola: The Velvety Cloak of Twilight

Bruce Tapola’s The Velvety Cloak of Twilight brings together two very distinct bodies of work. The first is a series of medium format acrylic paintings executed on paper. The rich, complex color schemes are funny-ha-ha and funny-peculiar all at the same time. For these paintings, the artist drew from a variety of experiences and sources: some personal, some common; some happy, some sad; some dated, some contemporary. The artist creates a kind of narrative quality in his work by employing a series of edits, overlaps, and combinations to coax the forms into a more complicated state of existence. The simultaneous deconstruction and super-construction creates a mixture in which each part maintains its own particular characteristics. Thus the specificity of Tapola’s color and form generates, for example, a house structure that is also a tree-line that visually rhymes with a cloudscape as well as a complex camouflage pattern. What results is a fantastic hybridization of crisp shapes and lush colors: Hanna-Barbera and Dr. Suess team up with Atari and Frank Lloyd Wright to make a Delia’s catalog for Kyle Petty and the hikers on the can of Deep Woods Off. Because of—or despite—Tapola’s pop sensibility, this accumulation creates a density that demands a slower read by the viewer.

The second group has Tapola’s pendulum swinging the other way, reacting against the aesthetics of the earlier series. The small panels contain no layering and draw exclusively from individual film stills found in Thomas Fensch’s 1970’s textbook, Films on the Campus. These pieces seem to be more committed to the source and much more about restraint. The paintings and the artist are more closely connected to these celluloid moments depicting a distant, snowy mountain from Misty Mountain or the busty coeds from H.O.T.S. Any editorializing happens with the selection of the images and their placement within the installation. The pieces are intimate not only in the size of the panels but also in terms of the scale of the small, brush strokes that gel together to make up the images. The watery strokes of the earthy, monochromatic paintings give the viewer the sense of how quickly or slowly Tapola’s brush moved, which also creates a rhythm for the viewer’s eye. As a result the pieces feel fresher and faster than the earlier pieces, as though they came into the world with the smallest amount of effort, like a quiet exhalation.

Typically, when a finished painting goes into the world, it leaves behind all the inspirational source material found in the studio. Tapola, however, strives to maintain this connection and constructs his installations to further the connections between the finished pieces and their roots. His installations provide a kind of laboratory / reading room / meditation space in which to experience the paintings. Staying true to his Indie roots, his work has always been disarming in the way it maintains a kind of dignity and humility. While the installations can be loud and raucous, they are never pretentious and grandiose. The installations retain the artist’s sense of humor as much as his melancholy. They also allow Tapola to continue to explore and investigate alternative paths for his paintings to take, long after they are finished. The Velvety Cloak of Twilight is the most recent extension of Tapola’s ongoing studio practice. He is reveling in the pop moment, searching through the mass media landscape to find these eerie, strange, beautiful moments of epiphany.

Hamlett Dobbins

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