Dave Tourjé

Art Note From Art Basel, 2016: Dave Tourjé, Evel Knievel and The Duende Spirit

June 15, 2023

Originally published in 2016

(Dave Tourjé, 2 Late 4 Luck, 2014, mixed media)

“They cared about me because I did things other men were afraid to do.”

–Evel Knievel

Walking about CONTEXT in Wynwood, Miami, during this year's Art Basel extravaganza, I spotted a Dave Tourjé masterpiece at Mat Gleason's Coagula Curatorial booth. The painting, 2 Late 4 Luck, bespeaks of that moment in-between moments that often finds one when caught between a rock and a hard place. Or, in the case of Evel Knievel, mid-air over the Grand Canyon on a motorcycle.  The painting's cryptographic words, markings, numerals, and visuals read like a primordial incantation, a sacred offering emanating from a stone tablet.  The smooth surface and gleaming pictographs along with the painting's over-life-size, totemic-cross shape produce an air of heraldic bearing which lends importance, monumentality, and historicity to the work. Symbolism emblazoned on Tourjé's would-be escutcheon: A horseshoe (that magical and superstitious charm the world over), the number '4' (symbolic for 'good luck' in Chinese culture), and a black cat (a symbol of evil omens in Western cultures). Complicating the message, other imagery consists of a skier jumping (or falling?) off an 80' drop, a surfer catching a big wave, two skaters (one a portrait of the artist, the other his friend and pioneer in extreme sports, Elliot Mills) grinding along the edge of an empty pool in a SoCal hood, and, of course, Evel Knievel, the mad daredevil on his bike. 2 Late 4 Luck is a celebration of people, the Ying and Yang in life, and the lucky/unlucky mystical turns of fate surrounding life's ultimate pursuit: survival. 2 Late 4 Luck is an homage to humanity, to man (the individual human), to the maverick, the risk-taker, the adventurer, to those not shy of grabbing the proverbial bull by the horns. But it is also this: a pictorial evocation to the duende spirits.  

From deep within ancient Iberian lands, El Duende, the fairy or hobbit-like creature in Spanish folklore from where the word duende derives, chooses you.; you don't choose it. To have duende is to have soul, to exude life in the face of death, to be authentic, and to stand tall with courage in order to back down from absolutely nothing. Bravery is paramount. Unlike a muse that could physically exist in the flesh and be hand-picked by an artist (think Picasso taking Dora Maar), El Duende (as selective as Picasso) is more elusive spirit than tangible asset.  El Duende is that which pulls your hairs on the back of your neck up when standing on a steep ledge and whispers in your ear: I dare you.  El Duende, for those aiming at absolute artistry, assists at cutting through the bullshit in life, at guiding the chosen to the very edge of everything, to a never-boring place, to that in-between and unnamable spot where time stands still—between nothingness and paradise yet always titillatingly on the cusp of danger as in the bullring or inside the barrel of a wave. El Duende takes the creative beyond sanity but not yet entirely to the cuckoo's nest; it restores the mojo and fills the sails enabling the writer, the poet, the painter to work all night and every night in practice and pursuit of artistic truth. El Duende is the mediator of death and never bespells its magic upon the faint of heart or to those without a serious set of cojones. It is why legions of fans the world over loved Evel Knievel, a duende spirit incarnate, because he did those things most of us are afraid to do (and because he took us along for the thrills). But El Duende loves, too, the spectator/passenger with equal measure if but with different mien as the artist/performer, and will—when standing before awe-inspiring feats of artistry—seize the captivated by the jugular! Whip them round and round!  Flummox their thoughts and insides in response to the art in order to remind them of their own mortality. And murmur effectively in their ear: “Grow some fucking balls, son. Make life a joyride.”
Evel Knievel once said: "Anybody can jump a motorcycle. The trouble begins when you try to land it."  2 Late 4 Luck, a visual feast proffered by the duende spirit, captures that sentiment brilliantly. —Gregory de la Haba

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