John Tottenham: The Indifferent Sublime
The artist and poet John Tottenham’s third solo exhibition in Los Angeles is titled “The Indifferent Sublime.” Tottenham, a handsome and gentle British eccentric, moved to Los Angeles over twenty-five years ago, having grown up outside London. After being kicked out of grade school for truancy, he tried his hand at schoolboy crimes, and finally graduated from what he calls “London’s worst art school” with a degree in fine art, after which he stopped painting for over a decade.
His subjects are the darker corners of American culture: the pressure to be successful and the doomed nature of romantic entanglements. He renders his findings in both art and poetry. “The Inertia Variations”, a gloomily humorous series, details the art of indolence and Tottenham’s inability to get off his couch. “Antiepithalamia & Other Poems of Regret and Resentment” is a brutal, and unforgiving, sequence of anti-love, anti-marriage, poems.
His current exhibition features fifty small, finely drawn ink-on-paper landscapes of decaying, desolate American cities—not a human is in sight—laced with acidic one-liners: “Failure is Definitely an Option,” “Her Presence Contaminates the Entire Town,” “Impotence is Underrated,” and “Ease Into Your Irrelevance.” The centerpiece of the new show is a large frame titled “The Undesirables,” and here Tottenham revisits his morbid teenage fascination with the girls of the Manson family. Laid out under glass, he has amassed fifty-five miniature portraits of the young women, many very attractive, who presented to the pre-pubescent Tottenham an atmosphere he calls “thick with sex and dread.”
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