I’m back fore ground!, 2012

(Press release)
This show built on Portnoy's explorations of a genre of destabilizing jokes known as "carrot jokes", first proposed by cognitive linguists Chlopicki and Petray (1981). One of the primary features of these jokes is that their background has essentially occluded the foreground, i.e. all of the establishing features of the situation (setting, character, theme, style, etc.) have overcrowded the "room" of the joke, leaving little space for the narrative to nudge through.

Included in the show were five wall-based pieces depicting various carrot jokes and containing an audio recording of Portnoy reciting or discussing these convoluted texts. Also featured were five "carrochromes", photo-realistic colored pencil drawings of carrot-textured terrains - foreground unraveled into background, or, conversely, setting as subject. The carrochromes poked fun at the recent proliferation of process-based textural abstraction in contemporary painting, but go at it "the hard way", employing laborious trompe-l'oiel technique while also referencing the history of the boldly colored monochrome.

The final series in the exhibition were three tall and thin (80" x 10") oil paintings depicting the 16th C Rabbi Israel Sarug viewed partially through the crack of a door. Virtually identical, except for the position and contents of his left hand, he holds different objects representing key concepts in his kabbalistic text, Studies in Emanation. These works function as alternate beginnings to a joke Sarug told concerning the 13th C Talmudic debate around the notion of "left emanation", which hinged on the radical proposal of the possibility of redemption through irrationality and sin. Formally, these paintings offer an analogue to the poetics of partiality in carrot jokes with their blunt omissions of information, and connect their intensified ambiguities to the practices of early Jewish mysticism.

Review: Oliver Basciano, Michael Portnoy: I’m Back Fore Ground!, Art Review, Summer 2012

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