He starts with a stretched canvas and builds up its surface with ten or fifteen layers of paper — white paper, colored paper, newsprint, reproductions, photographs, printed text — fixing each layer with a coat of clear shellac. Sometimes he embeds lengths of string or caulking to form linear elements in the palimpsest. When the buildup reaches a certain density, he attacks it with power sanders and other tools, exposing earlier layers, flashes of color, and unexpected juxtapositions. Not until the first sanding does he begin to see where the painting is going. He works like an archeologist, rediscovering the past.
Tomkins has composed a fascinating character study from similarly unexpected juxtapositions: art, Home Depot, race, hair salons, international travel, family, social justice, Los Angeles, antiquarian books, standup comedy… Read the essay while it’s still available at NewYorker.com.