Sculptor Robert Taplin has recently focused on an ongoing series of works that portray the fictional character Punch and his misadventures in the contemporary world. Rooted deep in Western mythology, Punch is an Anglicized version of Punchinello, the trickster figure that played a major role in sixteenth-century Italian commedia dell’arte.
Taplin’s work is steeped in art history, and his Punch series was informed by the work of the eighteenth-century Venetian painter and printmaker Tiepolo, who pictured Punchinello in a series of ink and wash drawings. Tiepolo’s work is known for its dreamlike and sometimes troubling imagery, and his works with Punchinello reveled in the character’s lazy, lecherous, and mischievous nature.
While Tiepolo’s Punchinellos primarily poked fun at the pretensions of the elite, Taplin brings Punch into the present day, where he uses him as a vehicle to express his personal anxieties by infusing the character’s hi-jinks with both psychological and political undertones.
The four small sculptures from Taplin’s Punch series on view indoors are joined by a major new outdoor piece, The Young Punch and His Mother Go Shopping, which has been sited directly in front of the Museum on Ridgefield’s Main Street. In perhaps the most psychologically complex of his Punch pieces, Taplin has portrayed Punch as a five-foot-tall child being led by his towering, eight-foot-tall mother. Punch, who is usually pictured causing trouble, is caught in an awkward and subservient role, emphasizing his male adolescent persona.