Punchinello Before Pan | 28″ x 38″ | Oil on linen | 2012
Webb’s paintings explore contemporary stories of a queer version of the Italian clown Punchinello. Slimmer, without hump, and driven by his appetites (Grimes), Punch’s experiences parallel those of the artist—an I not I. Initially the figure faces the HIV epidemic in a “contemporary dance macabre” (Kunitz), but like the artist Punch survives. He enters the gym in Punchinello Works Out—paintings of longing and physicality (Weinberg). Punch lolls about and roasts marshmallows with others On the Beach at Night. The still lifes include Punch’s mask and his piles of sex toys. Webb received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2016 for his Tinker Tailor Paintings, which raise questions of queer identity in the 21st century (Katz). More recently, Punch visits a bucolic waterfall and returns to the erotic gym and shower. In Webb’s 2022 NYC exhibition, Punchinello suffers the Cataclysms of our time in long painted friezes marked by heroic firefighters.