Tim Liddy’s Social Commentary

By Shannon Gallagher

Tim Liddy’s hyper-realistic paintings of real and fictional board game boxes are tongue-in-cheek comments on society. His work is biting and honest, while somehow retaining an air of playfulness. “I hate to use the word didactic [to describe the work],” he said, “as we all learn from different things, but I’m definitely learning from creating the pieces.” He compared the social commentary in his paintings to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, in the way that the television show pokes fun at politics, while an underlying seriousness to the jokes is always present. “All in the Family revealed racial stereotypes through character Archie Bunker,” he said. “You laughed, but you also saw that this was someone you didn’t want to be.”


Although art is subjective and opinions vary, Liddy shared an anecdote that sums up a ‘typical’ reaction to his work. “I was at my studio, and a plumber came in to work on some clogged lines. I had a few pieces on the table, and he was talking to me, leaning on one of my paintings. I told him I was a painter, and he asked me what my work looked like. I told him he was leaning on it, but he didn’t move, because he thought I did game board pieces printed in multiples. He didn’t realize it was a one-of-a-kind piece. When people see the work, they might think it was a game box on a wall, if it weren’t for the fact that it is hanging in a gallery.” This was a bit troubling to Liddy at his first solo show, because some viewers thought that it was a conceptual exhibition.

 “After that, I had to make the work more painterly, so that ten feet away, it might look like a game box, but up close, the viewer realizes it’s a different painting altogether. Hopefully that seduces the viewer to think about why the games were produced. At that time in history, what did it say about our culture? There are so many games, and they’re such an important part of who we are. We’ve played games throughout the history of civilization, and play is a very important part of the human experience- whether you’re kicking a ball or engaging in more intellectual play. The first reaction to the work is usually, ‘I can’t believe this isn’t a real game’ or  ‘I can’t believe this isn’t tape.’ I hope they then read into the content as much as the technical aspects, but I can’t control that- it’s the viewer’s own conventions. On one level, I want the work to be eye candy, but ultimately, I’d be disappointed if someone took it as only that,” he stated.


The artist, based in suburban St. Louis, enjoys exploring different mediums, subjects and styles. “The idea drives the content, medium, and technique,” he said. “Whether I’m a painter or a sculptor depends on the idea. I try not to put myself into a corner,” he said.


His current series of paintings of game board boxes are the result of an interest in the way humans recreated in the past, and the way we do so today. When Liddy first began this series, he needed subjects to work from, and found that eBay was a great way of being able to find a wide variety of vintage games and toys. He describes the community of collectors as a sort of “strange cult of people” that he stumbled across. He would bid on the games, sometimes paying hundreds of dollars for them in order to work from direct observation. “I needed to see it in front of me, scan it, and look at it in detail,” he said. Liddy would then put the game back on eBay and sell it. Soon, however, the artist found himself satisfied with the information about what the actual games looked like, and realized that he did not necessarily need the actual game in front of him. He began creating fictional games that he mixed in with the ones that actually existed, although he never says which are which. “Now, about half of the games are real, and half are made up. Someone might say to me, ‘Oh, I used to have that game,’ and it never existed. But I don’t reveal which are which. And even though many of them are based in reality, everything is fictional, in a sense, because I will add misspellings, or the patent might be off,” he explained.

Liddy has a studio space about 15 minutes away from his home. Although his ultimate goal is to build a studio in his house, having a five-year-old son makes working from home a bit difficult. “The idea of the studio is romanticized,” he said. “People think it is this place where you go and have a big canvas on the wall, and you’re throwing buckets of paint at it. It’s not like that. If someone videotaped my time in the studio, it would be boring. I have fun, but it is definitely work.” He continues, “I cannot sit around and wait for inspiration to strike me, I just have to get in there and get down to it. I check out physically but not mentally- I always have ideas in my head. As far as inspiration goes, however, I never lacked it, but I never needed it either. As you mature as an artist, its so much part of your routine, you don’t wait for it, you just work.

Liddy makes use of technology to make the painting process less complicated and faster. “I’d be totally lost without the computer,” he said. “I use everything and anything I can to make the job go faster, not because I mind the work involved with doing things slowly and laboriously, but because it means I can create more paintings. Some people argue that Van Eyck didn’t use the camera obscura to aid his drawing process, but that’s a romantic notion- of course he did. He was thinking as a businessperson, he needed to get the piece out the door to get started on the next one. It doesn’t make the work less beautiful or less effective. I use a computer to speed up my drawing process (instead of transcribing the actual image)- but there’s no machine to speed up the painting process, which is the most important part, anyway.”

His artistic process is encompassed by the idea of creating an archival and long-lasting piece of art. “I want the pieces to be little time capsules when we’re gone- reminders of the games we played, and the social/gender/and economic stereotypes present in them,” he said. “They are extremely archival because they’re painted on copper with enamel- even if they were kept outdoors and exposed to the elements, they would last a very long time.” Copper (or sometimes steel) is cleaned fastidiously before the initial coat of clear resin is applied. This step is essential because the resin has no oxidants in it- if Liddy were to paint directly on the surface, the titanium dioxide in white paint, for instance, would eventually oxidize. He chooses to work on copper and steel based on the fact that it is very stable when oxygen is prevented from getting to it (unlike canvas, board, or paper, which can break down over time). Enamel, which is used to paint road signs, is also extremely durable, although difficult to work with at times:  “I think more people would work with enamel if it wasn’t so difficult to use. It’s very sticky, and it dries strangely. You can blend and move it around for a certain amount of time, depending on the conditions and the color you choose (each dries at a different rate), but after a certain point, you have to let it dry and then go back into it. It’s a tricky medium, but it’s the only thing I can use for what I’m doing. The paint has to be able to survive the 90-degree bend on the edges of the copper box; oil or acrylic would simply crack or flake off in those areas,” he explained. Upon finishing the painting part of the creation process, they are then scratched, distressed, and made to appear as if they have been taped back together. “I want to show the history of it being used, abused, and forgotten,” he said.

When asked what frustrates him about making art, Liddy said, “There’s the challenge of creating a brand new piece from my head, but that’s always fun. There’s a challenge in actually working with the material, but once I get over that hurdle, it’s not very difficult. Now I have the challenge of keeping dog hair out of my paint. I should say on my labels that the medium is enamel on copper with dog hair,” he joked.  Liddy has plans to explore other ideas and mediums in the future. “I plan on veering off my current path,” he said. “I want to start working on some sculptural pieces that relate to the games. I need to change gears a bit, for the benefit of my creativity.” ZIA Gallery is very excited to see what Liddy comes up with next.