Tim Presley released his new visual art and poetry book, “Under the Banner of Concern,” Aug. 25. Best known for his music, released under the moniker White Fence, the Bay Area-based artist’s new book is filled with dramatic black and white brushstrokes and deconstructive, vulnerable word play. This collection of artworks demonstrates both Presley’s multidimensionality and his ability to represent the human condition through a variety of mediums.
“Under the Banner of Concern” features art from Presley’s 2019 exhibition at Chicago’s Soccer Club and Los Angeles’ The Pit, in addition to previously unreleased work and new poetry.
The book begins with an insightful forward by Trinie Dalton. Dalton speaks candidly about her emotional reaction to Presley’s work, stating that “these poems resonate because they universalize personal duress.” Presley’s own words are additionally scattered throughout the introduction in the form of candid letters.
In the forward, Presley states “this whole body of work revolves around a theme or time period of me getting off Opiates. Or as my Mom calls this time ‘The Troubles.’ ” He goes on to explain that he “picked up a paint brush again, and used it as a type of quiet, or therapy.”
This introduction contextualizes the book’s consistent themes of both raw vulnerability and universal disconnection. Presley’s poetry is an imprint of his mind, wandering through clever wordplay and contemplating the inexplicable nature of life.
Presley’s poetry is unique in its ability to make readers question the meaning of language itself, pushing them to see how words can take on lives and meanings beyond their dictionary definitions. In “Lonely Only Lonely,” Presley plays with meter, assonance and metaphor with lines such as “I’m dust in your broom/ A swimming costume/ Dispose the old rudder/ Throw me in the gutter.” His use of different literary devices draws opposing words together and gives them an unexpected coherence.
And just when it feels like Presley’s syntactic uncertainty and devilish literary devices will leave you utterly bewildered, he grounds himself with raw, personal narrative and collective experiences of pain, loss and love. Simple but immensely impactful, “To an Enemy, Send them Whiskey” is universal commentary on both loving the enemies within oneself and fearing them. Presley admits, “i’d send myself but this is all for me/ i’m an angel, devil and man, all three.”
This raw honesty is apparent in each poem, as titles such as “Fucking Sex,” “It’s Hard to Believe There’s Something Wrong In Those Nice Little Phones” and “Rehab” all imply.
Similarly, Presley’s paintings — which take up a predominant amount of space in the book — explore the concept of dissociation and bare humanity. Each painting is a collection of nude human bodies applied with black ink, bold brushstrokes and unwavering intent. The bodies are unnaturally morphed in some scenes, with disproportionate limbs, breasts and genitals. The paintings clearly draw inspiration from Picasso, but the mask-like faces, variations in brushstrokes and complex emotions they evoke make them Presley’s own.
As the book progresses, the bodies become more condensed and even more deconstructed. Faces overlap, torsos are left absent and body parts become less and less realistic. Additionally, Presley begins to include writing in many of his paintings, featured in all different fonts and sizes. The words are often disconnected from one another and unclear in their purpose, but this seems to all be a part of Presley’s plan.
The artist intentionally leaves much unsaid about these paintings, but he includes enough of himself — and enough of others — to make them universally accessible to readers.
“Under the Banner of Concern” is a unique piece of art, combining multiple mediums to create a shared human experience that is both beautiful and desperately needed. At a time when people are physically and emotionally isolated, it’s artists like Presley who remind us of our shared struggles and triumphs. His words, brushstrokes and intimate storytelling stays with you — long after you put down the book.