In tarot, the hermit card represents contemplation and self-discovery; his lamp symbolizes the inner wisdom needed to forge one’s own path. It’s fitting, then, that this form of illumination is the guiding metaphor for Grace Rosario Perkins’ exhibition at San Francisco’s Cushion Works: a new and original body of work made in solitary, independent progress.
Perkins has successfully pursued her own path as a self-taught artist with a punk aesthetic, creating paintings that reference aspects of her personal life, including her queer and Indigenous identity. Over the past year, she says she has felt a bit like a hermit, isolated from the rest of the world in Albuquerque—where she moved from the Bay Area to be closer to family—and cloistered in her studio, furiously working away on 16 paintings (all created in 2022) for exhibitions at Cushion Works and the Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson.
Judging by the self-assuredness and power of the seven large paintings on view at Cushion Works, she has benefited from this period of focus. All of the pieces in Hermit’s Lamp are visceral and dynamic, made up of rough, expressive marks applied intuitively and rapidly with acrylic and spray paint. Ablaze with color, they brim with an eclectic mix of drawing, writing and collage.
Phrases appear in many of the paintings: “All is well,” “Up yours,” and “Yes!” Collage elements include pieces of old paintings, family photographs, bingo cards, and a humorous bumper sticker that reads “Honk if you are on drugs.” Several of the paintings feature sketches influenced by book illustrations. Perkins’ recent inspirations include the bad graffiti and old signs she sees around Albuquerque.
Perkins has created a unique visual vocabulary. The paintings are busy and complex, but each has its own sense of unity. As gallerist Jordan Stein observes, it’s impressive that Perkins is able to make such a loaded combination of elements “work.”
Paintings like A Paradigm of Jealousy reflect this riotous synthesis. Made up of saccharine pinks and cobalt blue, muddy greens and pure black, the canvas includes a large, crudely drawn snake at the center, the words “feel the heat” and “trust” scrawled into the paint, and a piece of loose-leaf paper fixed to the surface.