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Paul Thek: Meat Pieces and The Tomb

Updated: Apr 20, 2020

Paul Thek, Untitled (Meat Piece with Flies), 1965

Meat Sculpture with Butterflies, 1966. Plexiglas on white pedestral, wax, and butterflies, 51.5 x 37 x 27 cm.

It is nothing new for an artist to examine themselves in their work. Whether it is looking out at the world and recording it from a certain perspective, or lending visual representation to the deepest pits of the mind the artist themself is always present. For a work to be authentic it must reflect the self in some way. What happens when an artist decides to examine their physical being?

One of Paul Thek's "meat pieces" from the series Technological Reliquaries; Credit: Photo by Sheldan C. Collins. Copyright the estate of George Paul Thek; Courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York

Throughout his career Paul Thek experimented with multiple mediums, always attempting to understand his existence. His identity as a homosexual man. His literal make up, flesh and bones. In a series titled "Meat Pieces", Thek sculpts slabs of unidentifiable meat. Large hunks of flesh dissected revealing the inner layers and make up. Placed in brightly tinted plexiglass cases the slabs feel foreign. Something to be researched. Handled with tongs and placed under a microscope. Covered in butterflies (not sure why). It becomes apparent that Thek is reflecting himself in his work in context with other works where he presents replicas of his own severed limbs. Most obvious is a work title "The Tomb; death of a hippie", in which Thek presents his own corpse.

Here Thek literally puts his face on the work. Rather than a zoomed in looked on flesh representative of his own humanity, it is him. Down to the mustache and hair everything is there. Like some out of body experience Thek is able to confront himself. Observe his body as a lifeless object. Void of conciousness the piece comes almost entirely about his physical presence. No longer about his experiences or perspective; he makes himself an object. One he can begin to understand and even lie next to. The artist is always present. This time more so than others.

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