Commenced in late 2021, Michael Lindeman’s Regression Paintings are the most enduring series of his oeuvre to date. Their loose gestural abstraction and mirror substrates are significant stylistic departures in a practice covering more than twenty-five years. Lindeman’s work spans sculpture, installation and painting, from Duchampian assemblages to installations riffing off suburban cricket, to painted simulations of newspaper classified advertisements. The through line in all Lindeman’s work is considered conceptualism combined with enigmatic self-deprecation. With absurd humour and incessant references to either art history or the art world, Lindeman critiques the art ecosystem and structures of power, all the while questioning himself.
Lindeman can’t explain why he started finger painting in bright colours on mirror. “Maybe it’s a mid-life crisis”. Maybe. He definitely has a track record of plundering his vulnerability in service of his practice: he prefers to cover his head with a paper bag for professional portrait photographs and has made at least one pathos-laden text work seeking artist friends: ‘No online pseudo friend bullshit, I can’t get you a show and won’t be judging a prize anytime soon. If you’re into chugging a beer or two at the Pub and having a snigger then give me a call. 0481 289 273.’ It’s details like the use here of his actual phone number that makes Lindeman’s work so hilarious and his intentions so tricky to unpack.
However, rather than self-doubt, the Regression Paintings come from an inspired and intuitive coalescence of Lindeman’s ongoing concerns and realisations about his practice. “My previous work could be cold and restrained. It needed something to engage the viewer. It has taken me a long time to realise that not everyone understands Duchamp.” While pondering “an extreme juxtaposition with the hard edge of the text”, the idea of finger painting in bright primary and secondary colours came to mind. Lindeman proffers that while not consciously arrived at, perhaps his latest stylistic choice is not so surprising: “ideas lie dormant in the subconscious while they build”.
While the act of making these works was instinctual, Mike Kelley has preoccupied Lindeman’s thinking throughout his work on the series. The celebrated late American conceptual artist is a touchstone for Lindeman: “He was not afraid to be irritable and outspoken, and embraced failure when most artists invent their own glory.” Kelley’s soft toy series including works such as More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid and The Wages of Sin, 1987 and Deodorized Central Mass with Satellites, 1991/1999 have been particularly important. “Critics said the work was linked to childhood abuse, Kelley railed against this but the idea stuck. Kelley said the only abuse he suffered was Hans Hoffmann’s indoctrination of ‘push and pull abstraction.’” His interest in this aspect of the historiography of Mike Kelley led Lindeman to Freud’s work on repression and regression; and certainly, Lindeman’s latest paintings burble with resonances of these two psychoanalytical concepts.
Lindeman says “Intoxication, emptiness, currency, excess, and narcissism - the Regression Paintings are guided by auto-biographical experiences.” The works range from contemplations of self-doubt in Regression Painting (Confused…) and Regression Painting (Amateur…), and human relationships in Regression Painting (Friends…) to tart critiques of art world values in Regression Painting (Professional…) and Regression Painting (Fashionable…) and art styles, specifically, in the case of Regression Painting (Thick…) the valorised impasto. Invariably each text piece is complex, if not contradictory in tone. Regression Painting (Fun…) could be a meditation on friendship with words like ‘fun, shenanigans, mischief’ but it also includes ‘bad behaviour’, ‘mockery’ ‘sneer’ and ‘lampoon’.
Where is the viewer in all of this? I am instantly drawn to the decadence of the lead words of Regression Painting (Pyjamas and Cocktails…), but repelled by those that follow ‘strategic plays, bumptious egos, airkissing, selfies galore’. Has Michael Lindeman tricked me into some kind of complicity with the posturing vacuity I see – and try to avoid - in the art world?
Reflected in the mirror substrates, viewers are more than engaged, they become involved. Looking longer at Regression Painting (Pyjamas and Cocktails…), I happily identify with ‘hair and make up’ and ‘uncertain smiles’ but am less comfortable with ‘slick manoeuvres’ and ‘chase the heat’. Ultimately, this beguilingly palatable painting cajoles me into acknowledging some of the less palatable machinations of my professional world.
While the smaller, more recent works in the series are based in conversations, observations, and books he’s read, the themes are familiar – musings on relationships, existential angst, art world and structural critiques, witty references to art history. When I ask about Regression Painting (Duchamp Plumbing), Lindeman mentions both the canonical Fountain and his own recent (unsuccessful) attempts to discuss the iconic artist with a plumber working in his house. (My darling plumber-dad would have been just as nonplussed).
The shorter texts combine with the sensuous abstraction and inviting mirrors to make these works profoundly relatable and appealing. Regression Painting (When Good Friends Go Bad) makes my heart skip; feelings of empathy are triggered by Regression Painting (Sorry about That!). Others, like Regression Painting (Conceptual Artists Have Feelings Too) and Regression Painting (Loner Waves to In-crowd) are laugh out loud funny.
Not everyone understands Duchamp it’s true. But a lot of people will understand - and relate to - Michael Lindeman’s Regression Paintings.
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