In Her Newest Paintings, Kim Gordon (Really) Cuts Down Her Screen Time

Kim Gordon has struggled with her relationship to her phone for some time now. The influential musician, artist, and founder of the cult clothing label X-girl traces the origins of her attachment to the aftermath of September 11, when she needed to be in constant communication with her loved ones. At the time, as she recalls, it was a lot of: “I’m hereYou’re where? Okay, good.” 

In later years, her phone usage became more intentional. Before Gordon left Northampton, Massachusetts—the countercultural hub where she spent the last two decades raising her daughter—for her native LA a few years ago, she approached social media almost like an art form. Every now and then, the former front woman of Sonic Youth would post a mundane scene to Instagram that, upon closer inspection, reveled in the absurdities of life: a dilapidated, Frieze-themed East Village Pizza box; a worn dog toy beside a pair of leopard underwear. She captioned these photos “flung,” and they offered the same sardonic wit that has characterized her actual artistic practice. Today, in the Glendale, California, studio where she conceives much of her visual work, Gordon admits she’s fully addicted to her phone. “It’s horrible,” she says with a laugh.  

This week, that tortured 20-plus-year affair comes to a head in the art-rock legend’s new show at 303 Gallery in New York. The 13-painting exhibition, on view in the gallery’s Project Room until July 28, explores the central duality of our device-centered lives: both the endless possibilities and the endless loss at the touch of our fingertips. “iPhones are like whole worlds you can fall into,” explains Gordon, “but they’re also voids. You have to be careful.” 

The new works—one six-by-seven-foot canvas and 12 much smaller, square ones—are a departure from the brush-stroked figures and paint-dripped scribblings of text that Gordon has previously exhibited. Their sodden layers of somber watercolors display murky pools of charcoal that spew into volcanic crimsons and highlights of electric yellow. There is a loose connection to the late Cy Twombly in the paintings’ coloration and drip effects, but Gordon’s primary point of reference was something else. “The iPhone promises freedom, and control over communication,” she says. “It’s an outlet of self-expression, and an escape and a distraction from the bigger picture of what’s going on in the world. It’s also useful for making paintings.”

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