The Trouble with Being Lulu

a QAR Exclusive by Christine La Sala

David Faulk’s paintings are little parables of anxiety. He takes us on journeys to familiar places transformed into landscapes of peril, and to alien environments, which seem all too familiar in their dreamlike configurations. You can’t take anything at face value in David Faulk’s world. The body is subject to sudden and random transformations as is time and the environment. He peoples his pieces with the characters of Little Lulu and Nancy both comic book characters -- a duck, a cat and a mouse also have (mis)adventures in Faulk’s works. The paintings are brightly colored narrative snapshots that reveal a moment of crisis and lend themselves to a variety of interpretations, both humorous and frightening. Faulk is reminding us that we cannot trust the evidence of our senses, nor can we depend on a strict adherence to the laws of society for fair treatment. Nature and humanity are capricious in these paintings and require willpower and resilience to negotiate them.

The State Series is a set of photographs from the U.S. Dept of Agriculture made in 1962 depicting the 50 states and their unique resources. The landscapes are empty of cities, highways and for the most part people. You might conclude from these images that the U.S. was a vast and abundant park with some farms and a few small towns inhabited by wholesome and racially homogenous citizens. Faulk has taken these landscapes and set Lulu and Nancy loose in them. After all what could be safer than your own hometown? What better place to play than the kindly farmer’s field? The idealized landscapes of prosperity, abundance and order are polluted by the incursions of cartoon characters grown monstrous. Who is responsible for these girls? Do they know how much trouble they are in? Lulu and Nancy scatter themselves across the country -- they get into everything. Lulu is growing out of the ground in Wisconsin, skipping over the mesas in New Mexico and is being hunted in New York. In New Jersey Nancy has turned an unhealthy shade of green and is growing leaves and multiple heads in a pumpkin patch while another giant head lurks in the pond. What is to become of these girls and their reckless games? How can the citizens of this orderly utopia contend with such boisterous behavior? Conflict is inevitable. Lulu and Nancy’s bright primary colors and monstrous distortions label them as outsiders -- trespassers. If they belonged to this idealized world they would fit in, they would be good girls.

Nancy and Lulu have adventures; they play and get into scrapes. We experience the inexplicable contradictions of the prescribed adult world through their eyes. In “I’m Sorry Little Girl…” we get a glimpse into Lulu’s past. Lulu is superimposed over an assemblage of canvasses depicting scenes of home life. Post-Impressionist images of welcoming rooms set for tea create a nostalgic mood. Lulu has been reduced to lines in this painting, her signature red dress faded to reveal the spaces behind her. A voice bubble from above tells her that her mother is dead. By reducing her to line only Faulk is able to concentrate the emotional impact of Lulu’s loss through composition, abstracting her into the background, carrying our eyes over the lines of her figure and facial expression.

Lulu, Nancy and the animals are by no means helpless victims of circumstance. They experience the pleasures and dilemmas of life in a complicated and arbitrary world. Life is an adventure with no defined moral lesson -- it is exciting, surprising, and sometimes dangerous. They take risks, have parties and rebel when they are mistreated. David Faulk reminds us that it can be perilous to be a strong-willed child, but no fun at all just being a good girl.