Published by Karma Books and Gordon Robichaux, Tabboo! 1982–88 appraises the formative years of legendary performer, painter, designer, puppeteer, and muse Tabboo!
TABBOO!, the recent publication by Karma Books about the artist of the same name (hereafter referred to as Glamorous Life), uses work, and interviews with the artist as a means of painting an alternative picture of glamour. Something was happening underneath the well-moisturised skin of 1980s New York that the artist worked in. It was a New York in which the hard-edged Gordon Gekko’s were supplanted in favour of a nouveau sense of beauty and love. In the book, the artist references their rural childhood during which glamour was seen as something unreal, projected through television screens across America without context. They talk about the magic of aesthetics, but also about initially being rejected by the contemporary art scene of the ‘80s, speculating that it was because of their professional practice in drag and the perceived incompatibility of art and glamour. Their rejection of the clean, practiced sterility of contemporary art is embodied by their visual practice. The paintings collected in TABBOO! present a desire to inject glamour—the kind that transfixed the artist to the TV—into reality through memory, objects and individuals. The work maintains a vibrant sense of energy, as if illustrating the feeling of being told a story excitedly in real-time. The desire to utilise art from outside the traditional boundaries of the art industry, and to use colour and form as a vessel for love in its purest sense, remains at the core of the work.
As many of the western world’s great contemporary art meccas become tax havens for oligarchs, enforcing unlivable rents, and constricting the culture that made them desirable in the first place, looking backwards has become a trend. Thankfully, TABBOO!, is not guilty of lamenting a past that many of its readers are too young to have experienced. Instead, it feels more like someone showing you old photos, telling you stories, and sharing an intimate moment. The work maintains a childlike sense of wonder that the industrialisation of art in the latter half of the twentieth century stripped us of. Whether the remembered stories were really this glamorous doesn’t matter, as the cold light of reality is held out here by velvet curtains. Early on, TABBOO! makes a point of giving the archaic definition of glamour: to deceive or charm by means of illusion. I think that’s fitting for the oeuvre of Glamorous Life—he idea that the portrayal isn’t doesn’t necessarily have to be real. It just has to be beautiful and it has to be alive. Glamorous Life still works in the same East Village studio where many of the paintings and material collected in this book were made. It’s both a bastion of what the neighbourhood used to be, and an example of how all things eventually have the potential to be adopted into the mainstream culture. The Glamorous Life lives on in Manhattan.