Going Dutch

Downtown hot spot Amsterdam plays host to a provocative painting exhibition

A fire last September forced Amsterdam co-owner Todd Colin to consider a major restoration to the nightclub. On Central just north of the downtown core, the gay bar has been known for its swank interior, so Colin naturally set about making the place as cushy as it had been before.

The grandson of the woman who opened The Squirrel Cage, Phoenix's first topless bar, Colin explains that he never wanted a run-of-the-mill watering hole. "I did not want to open a mom-and-pop bar," he says. After completing the new remodel, with tall yellow Corinthian columns, Greco-Roman architectural embellishments and gold-framed mirrors, he realized that the new look had the feeling of an art gallery. So that's what he's turned it into.

An intriguing collection of paintings by Thomas Blee Carlyle hangs at Amsterdam through July 18 in a show titled "Censoree Deprivation: a fresh and stimulating body of recent paintings."

Thomas Blee Carlyle's paintings help celebrate Amsterdam's return.
Thomas Blee Carlyle's paintings help celebrate Amsterdam's return.

How fresh are they? Carlyle only started working on the 17 paintings in January, specifically creating them for this show. And stimulating? Well, certainly that's the point, since Carlyle's inspiration, he admits, is vintage porn.

Dash, for example, recalls the visual style of German Expressionist woodcuts, and captures that sensibility using Venetian plaster, acrylics and plywood. This square painting depicts one clothed middle-aged man, who bears a slight resemblance to Truman Capote, attired in a white suit, white fedora and glasses, facing a younger, fitter man who is totally nude with his back to the viewer. The circumstances of the meeting are not certain, but it clearly gives the impression that a fiscal transaction will prelude a physical one. "When Harry Meets Hustler" could be a descriptive alternative title.

Wearing worn jeans, loose-fitting tee shirt and sunglasses hanging near one beaded necklace, Carlyle, 37, wouldn't look out of place on the beach in his native San Diego. "They are very minimally drawn," Carlyle says, summing up the collective appearance of his recent creations. The undraped males in the paintings depict body types you would expect to see in a dance class, not unusual, given Carlyle's background in both dance and painting.

"Often in painting things can be overpainted," Carlyle says about his frustrations with contemporary art. The Loftus avoids that pitfall completely. Rendered in deep shades of red, light creams and translucent gold, the limited palette is paired with thin applications of paint. The brush strokes have a sketchy, swiftly applied quality. There is little modulation of either color or paint. This gives the execution a frenzied visual quality that's as if it were just painted prior to being hung. The subject matter centers on three nude men looking downward at an object just out of sight.

Despite the sexual nature of the paintings, Carlyle avoids shock value. The tension in Carlyle's scenes comes from what is anticipated. And while most of the works have a naive, crudely rendered look, Stained Glass is a noticeable exception. It is the most representational of the set and includes a fuller color palette, complete with naturalistic flesh tones.

Featuring a young man with his head tilted backward and his hands holding his neck, he is surrounded by vibrant Technicolor flowers. The expression on his face is a bewildering mix of self-satisfied narcissism and pure boredom. Youth appears to be presented simultaneously as an object of desire and a negotiable commodity.

Interpreting such adult film images in fine art terms, Carlyle has crafted a unique show. And Colin appears to have shown that intriguing work can be displayed outside the context of a gallery without becoming a bland decorative embellishment. Still, a martini while taking in the exhibit wouldn't hurt.

 
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