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Animated Edge, A Day-Glo World, Candy Coated Angst • Brooklyn, NEW YORK

by Stuart Nicholson

 

Smashed toy trucks, elephant-faced cheery people, dancing can openers with the heads of horses; these are signs of the a new image of Pop alternative art, blending Modern and ancient techniques to examine the nature of revelry. Pop art has always had its happy side, the bright colors and smiling faces of advertising, but naturally this comes with a tinge of angst, and the odd subversion of Surrealism in its exaggerated angles and juxtaposition, and sheen of Contemporary news events. A new item to this agenda, seen in certain Brooklyn shows recently, is the state of personal angst, an interior experience turned outward with varied pomp and grandeur from the pervasiveness of a Time’s Square billboard to the expansiveness of a traditional Chinese landscape.

 

At 31 Grand Gallery in Williamsburg, David Krepfle’s crushed and reshaped Tonka trucks show us the Abstract Expressionism of childhood memories by forcing the toys (an icon of American childhood for years) into squares, houses, and odd industrial shapes. The manipulator becomes the manipulated. There is an odd identification with the toys, which is a combination of the residue of childhood memories (especially for a man), and the aura given to the toys by logo identification. Something about that yellow used in Tonka trucks which is not the yellow of Caterpillar trucks (more like the yellow and feel of candy banana). Smashed so, the toys set free our personal identification with memories, toys, and culture while parodying the Formalist school of art. The parody continues in Day-Glo floor-to-ceiling installations of painted wood panels which appear to be a set for Laugh-In with varying decorative patterns (including paintings of flattened trucks) and animated letters. The sentences used here are profound and innocent, provocative and trite. “I just bought a new couch and I think I want to go home and look at it,” “MY bulldozer is bigger than yours,” and “Your husband asked me if I wanted a blow job at the gym.” Childhood bragging matures to include adult topics with the same set of competitions. In many ways we are still on the playground, only now the results of our aggressions are broken marriages, broken limbs, a ruined environment, and war. 

 

In DUMBO, at the Mastel + Mastel Gallery, David Weidl’s show “Sawdust in my Bones” twists common themes of clowns, houses, and advertisement cut-outs into personal emotional examinations. In one painting juggling jumbo, a blue-faced half-man, half-elephant gasps oddly through a long snout while juggling three red and yellow balls. The elephant-man’s ears are pricked expectantly, and the snout interrupts the expression, giving the odd characteristic of blending emotions. It is the old adage that makes many children afraid of clowns. They are too happy and uncontactfully vibrant. Weidl’s paintings show a child’s wide-eyed openness with an adult wariness. It is as if Disney has a headache and premature baldness. In a series of assorted grouped collages painted on black and white magazine cutouts, bright colors focus emotional attention or staleness using a style á la Baldassari. In one, a fashion model’s face is so blanched by acidic blue as to appear out of an ‘80s horror nuclear flick. Bright blue plastic piggy banks were handed out at the door with Weidl’s trademark white picket fence symbolizing an ideal America: stale, happy, and separate.

Yun-Fei Ji, The Corn Field, ink, pigment, and alum on mulberry paper

Yun-Fei Ji, Marlboro Country, ink, pigment, and alum on mulberry paper

A warped kind of Fantasia is more likely the focus of Chinese artist Yun-Fei Ji, whose recent show at Pierogi 2000 defies expectations, appearing as the delusional dream under the veneer of traditional process-oriented ink drawings. Ink has that peculiar quality of appearing in detail as if it were drawn a hundred years before, and Ji’s images look as if they emerged from a magical place where men aren’t candy canes but can openers with the head of birds, fighting in an indeterminate space. Traditional Chinese landscape painting, much like some of the real Chinese landscape, has a contrapuntal sense of space. Ji uses this sensibility to float things back and forth while transforming items in and out of the traditional tree image. Instead of using media images or cartoonishly bright colors, Ji takes a common media for his country and infuses a mode of Contemporary angst in the form of gadgetry connected to body parts, crashed cars, and wrecked ships. The images themselves at times seem to have the transmutating image process quality of a Phillip Guston, a cartoonish Surrealism. In one called marlboro country, a conglomeration of body parts, tree branches, and crushed billboards build into a vertical space while a crushed gas station floats in the sky. Ji hovers segments of buildings over spaces as the scale of figures goes from large to minute, changing from stick puppet figures to gas-masked men to horse-headed aggressors. The usual meditative peace of a Chinese landscape is undercut by an assortment of cacophonous activity. In one painting, a contrast to warring figures is smaller men giving anal and oral sex while pipes and trees float overhead. Is this Contemporary angst or archetypal struggle? Ji seems to have dredged worries from the dawn of technology of man becoming machine. Meanwhile, he leaves large white expanses in many drawings as resting spots. His is a squawking emotion always present at the edge of consciousness and pushed by the detritus of daily Contemporary life.

 

His partner in showing, Katie Mertz, pushes a more refined sense of emotionalism, using ink and paint to create a likewise contrapuntal musical sense of space. Shapes bend and twist to have a yearning quality amid a spatial field akin to Miro and Kandinsky. Her main tie to Pop imagery is in her occasional use of text. However, this clues one into how to view the drawings. Text in her work is stretched, bunched, letters curving over shapes, extending and pointing to other shapes, other words. Beyond written text, a conversation curves and varies, emotions stretch between words, and vowels linger. This technique is used in the media, especially in children’s television, where a gum commercial will have a stretched and animated letter extending, repeating and becoming big on the screen. The shapes in her work appear to have the same interactive conversation jumping and curling around a cloud of often pastel colors to create an airy denseness pushed by the aggressive arabesques of cartoonish ink drawings. The personal emotionalism of a cartoon is emphatic dark lines muted with high and sweet voices. Mertz is having an animated conversation with herself that is expansive enough to include us and is captivating in its deprecating and twirling dance.

 

These artists share one thing in common. They are unafraid to show private emotions in a public manner. It is as if media-oriented art has come full circle from selling an object, to selling me, to disassembling itself.

 

Stuart Nicholson

New York, New York

2001

 

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