Vito Schnabel Gallery is pleased to present Thomas Woodruff: The Dinosaur Variations, an exhibition of recent paintings depicting prehistoric creatures in the moments before their destruction. The exhibition will be on view at 455 West 19th Street in New York from February 9 to March 30, 2024. It is the artist’s third solo presentation with the gallery.
The paintings in The Dinosaur Variations,are a continuation of a series Woodruff began in 2020, during the pandemic lockdown, which debuted in his solo show, Resurrection, at Vito Schnabel Gallery in 2022. Working in isolation in his Hudson Valley studio, he began to compulsively draw dinosaurs, viewing them as compelling avatars of both pathos and melancholy well-suited to such a challenging moment. Despite Woodruff’s meticulous rendering of his dinosaur subjects, the resulting paintings push against the expectations of “paleoart” and other forms of natural history illustration, casting the dinosaurs as the dramatis personae of an apocalyptic production, rather than paleontological specimens. Woodruff sets these anthropomorphized creatures within stage-like environments, adorned with bursts of intricate flora, gleaming rainbows, and flaming orbs streaking across the sky. These elements draw upon inspiration from a wide range of art-historical and theatrical touchstones; from the luminous textures of Titian, to the mystical landscapes of the German Romantic painter, Philipp Otto Runge, to the extravagant violence of Edo period ukiyo-e master Yoshitoshi, as well as the canons of classical ballet and grand opera.
In composing these works, Woodruff turned to the conventions of music, borrowing the idea of the “theme-and-variation” structure, with each painting in the series employing the same basic components—a dinosaur or dinosaurs, a rainbow or other prismatic atmospheric effect, a volcano, a moon, and an asteroid strike or its aftermath—articulated in different ways. In some of the paintings, the dinosaurs are shown just before disaster strikes, barely aware of what will soon befall them: Nydia (2022), named for the tragic blind heroine of Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1834 novel The Last Days of Pompeii, depicts a sauropod resting in a field of flowers, glancing up at a fireball careening towards Earth as a volcano erupts in the distance, while the mural-sized Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) (2022), spanning 16 feet across four panels, shows a Tyrannosaurus rex in repose amid a thorny bramble as explosions light up the sky. In Angus D. (2022), a baby Spinosauris breaks free of its jewel-like shell, just in time to see a thickly impastoed asteroid wrapped in lacy ribbons of smoke.
The paintings in The Dinosaur Variations, epitomize Thomas Woodruff’s virtuosic brand of queer maximalism, irrevocably shaped by his experience of living through the AIDS epidemic as a young gay artist. As the artist has described, the series is an “exploration of grace in the face of annihilation,” presenting scenes of mayhem and doom suffused with glamor and wit.