Saturday, November 1, 2014

Michael Dotson

There's an alluring sense of nostalgia in Michael's paintings. Disney has inundated us all with shared, collective childhood memories of characters and events that have never taken place. The past is comforting in its finitude, especially if we have positive associations with it, and it also lacks the chaos and uncertainty of the future. Through nostalgia, we shape the past in order to fit our own desire to idealize and control our memories and perceptions.
Michael's sexy centaur is taken from a Fantasia still. Fantasia is arguably one of the most ambitious, complex, and successful Disney movies ever made. Aside from how much the film has influenced Michael; it's also made a huge impact on Dan Colen, Alan Prazniak, as well as my own practice. The film encapsulates the feeling that anything is possible, and it manages to do so without pandering or losing any of its sinister beauty and mystery. The idea of boundless capability is so thoroughly tied to the American dream and the ethos upon which this country was founded. The ideal can be easily viewed as pernicious if taken to the extremes of Manifest Destiny, however it can also be a very powerful and transformative belief. It's the same desire that lies at the heart of so many of Nietzsche's writings, this yearning to make the most of ourselves, even if we do exist in a world that's no where close to perfect, and also what makes reading Nietzsche such an invigorating and profound experience.
I am drawn to how Michael blurs the line between childhood and sexuality, especially since the division is artificial. As much as our society at large would like to pretend that children are sexless, mindless, puppets, we can control on a string, we are born into this world as sexual beings with powerful drives, and instincts that no amount of denial or moralizing can suppress.
Many of Michael's paintings remind me of Agnes Varda's Le bonheur. The New Wave film is a brilliant critique of happiness, monogamy, and the institution of marriage. Varda used the music of Mozart, and the aesthetic of Impressionism to evoke an ebullient and cheery environment, beneath that simmers a dark and callous reality. Varda views Impressionist paintings as being some of the saddest ever made, because the Impressionists tried so hard to evoke this bucolic sense of joy. Similarly, Michael appropriates images from Disney that when taken out of context often reveal a disturbing and insidious undercurrent. Playfully riffing off of Munch's Scream, as well as Francis Bacon's bellowing, alienated figures; Michael achieves a concurrent sense of dislocation and detached horror. Using a female subject on the verge of mental collapse is also a departure from modernist paintings that romanticize the emotional breakdowns of men.

Michael's Cinderella, shares a parallel with Anne Sexton, who found her voice through satirizing fairy tales, and interjecting an autobiographical feminist critique. Here is an excerpt from Sexton's Cinderella:

He went to their house and the two sisters
were delighted because they had lovely feet.
The eldest went into a room to try the slipper on
but her big toe got in the way so she simply
sliced it off and put on the slipper.
The prince rode away with her until the white dove
told him to look at the blood pouring forth.
That is the way with amputations.
They just don't heal up like a wish.
The other sister cut off her heel
but the blood told as blood will.
The prince was getting tired.
He began to feel like a shoe salesman.
But he gave it one last try.
This time Cinderella fit into the shoe
like a love letter into its envelope.

There is an unsettling psychological intensity as well as ambiguity coursing through this painting; it's both comical and horrifying. Ariel's facial expression is not unlike Bernini's orgasming Saint Teresa. Are they drowning or cuming at the same time?! The scene not only brings to mind Richard Bosnan's despair ridden depictions of people drowning, but also Mike Kelley's very funny and elucidating essay, Notes on Caricature, in which he mentions, "a current television game show called Double Dare," that, "features on-the-verge-of-adolescent boy/girl teams in sports activities that often require them to cover each other in gooey foodstuffs. At certain points they must fish into facilely suspect substances labelled 'brain juice', 'mashed maggots', 'fish lips', 'dead worms', and so on, in order to win prizes. Part of the show's attraction to youth of that age is surely their fear of their dawning sexuality, which is associated with taboo, or 'disgusting' activities and substances...Double Dare occasionally brings on parents, whose submersion in gunk obviously has a different meaning: this is the pure pleasure of defiling an authority figure."

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ryan Schneider

Visiting Ryan's studio and seeing his mesmerizing paintings before they were installed in his solo show at Two Rams was incredibly fun!! Ryan's show is up right now through the 28th of this month!

Ryan's steamy, tropical paintings are filled with rich symbols and archetypes that align them with Jungian psychology. The mask represented the persona for Jung, and the word "persona," literally translates to "mask" in Latin. According to Jung, in his essay, Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, "The mirror does not flatter, it faithfully shows whatever looks into it; namely, the face we never show to the world because we cover it with the persona, the mask of the actor." Paul Klee's etching, Comedian, 1903, exemplifies this Jungian belief. Klee peels off the jovial mask of the comedian only to reveal a solemn, brooding individual underneath. Jung believed that we wear different masks depending on who we are with. He thought that we put on these masks in order to protect ourselves from the scrutiny and criticism of others. People's public selves are often unlike their private selves, an idea that Gillian Wearing also delves into in her videos of masked individuals confessing to things that they otherwise would not want to admit to.
Ryan's powerful paintings emanate a sense of wistful longing. The hauntingly enigmatic beauty of Ryan's paintings reminds me of Coleridge's Kubla Khan. This painting especially reverberates with the Abyssinian maid's intoxicating song, Coleridge's sense of deep darkness, and an idea of paradise gone awry.

Ryan follows the surreal logic of dreams, and produces cryptic paintings, using archetypical symbols. The evil eye is one of the most prevalent and universal symbols, and is usually used as a protective talisman that wards off wicked spirits. In Turkey, the superstition is that the evil eye absorbs the envy and negative energy of others. For the Turks, even compliments can be laced with hidden resentment. Ryan fuses the symbol of the evil eye, with another symbol of protection, the crab. Simultaneously seductive and repellent, the figure evokes a mysterious sense of perplexity.
Monkeys are especially fascinating to us, because they remind us so much of ourselves. The monkey was a life long motif for Picasso, who began depicting them very early on in his work. For Picasso, who was preoccupied with accessing the primal and raw within us, the monkey was a perfect subject. Although we share so much in common with our fellow primates, monkeys are more direct with their drives and emotions; they don't bother wearing masks and disguises.

Ryan creates a dramatic sense of mood by staging his paintings at night. This beguiling and synesthetic painting resounds with the songs of the birds that it depicts.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Scott Indrisek

Scott's droll wit as well as the playful and kinetic way in which he references pop culture reminds me of Fischli/Weiss. Like the Swiss duo, his allusions to everyday vernacular are contemplative and subdued. The graphically appealing image of what would otherwise be a discarded object, also seems to be mischievously poking fun at the oft-quoted structure of the grid.
Scott's paintings share the intimate scale of books and reflect Scott's background in literature. His diptych simultaneously reiterates the inherent physicality of both the novel and the adjoined paintings. It made me think of Camille Paglia's belief in the physical concreteness of text, to her, "text exists as an object; it is not just a mist of ephemeral subjectivities." It's always difficult to discern between when Paglia is being bombastic, and if she is being sincere, but between all the grating bravado she does have moments of brilliance. Although dismissing subjective experience is completely ludicrous, the idea of thinking of text as a physical entity is fantastic!

The intimacy of the scale accentuates the private and intriguingly enigmatic quality of Scott's paintings. There's a seductive aspect in the richness of the paintings' tactile surface, and a compelling tension that exists between the abstracted and illusionistic space.
I love Scott's painting within a painting!! The tenderly painted monochrome on the left side of the canvas pays homage to a painting that Scott's father made. The strong personal element that is present within all of Scott's paintings emanates an aura of emotional complexity and depth.

Scott also keeps several blogs in which his deliciously biting satire debunks the absurdities and power dynamics in the art village. The hilarity in much of Scott's writing relies on replacing words that have become ubiquitous and generalized, with descriptions that expand meaning with exactitude and precision. When Scott refers to Jeff Koons as an industrial fabricating tycoon, in his blog, Brant Watch, he gives a more incisive and accurate depiction of what it is that Koons represents rather than if he were to refer to Koons simply as an artist!

Satire and caricature have always shared a common language, and Brant Watch is reminiscent of George Grosz's scathing portrayals of society. Although our situation isn't nearly as dire as what was happening during the Weimar Republic, our unpromising current climate is a stark contrast to the economic prosperity during the Clinton administration. Especially as technology replaces people in the workforce, the middle class continues to be eradicated, and the dollar consistently loses its value, not only does it seem unlikely that the economy will ever recover even closely to what it once was, but the widening of the economic gap becomes even more conspicuous than ever, making Brant Watch especially timely.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Alison Kuo

Knock knock. Who's there? Banana. Knock knock. Who's there? Banana. Knock knock. Who's there? Orange you glad I didn't say banana?!
Each time I enter the elaborately convoluted labyrinth that is Alison's universe, I feel as if I'm not entirely sure which way is up or down anymore. The cacophony of symbols and their extensive possible meanings inundates the senses, in a way that mimics the overwhelming complexity of the world itself. Is it a peach or a uterus? The easily recognizable, BPA-laced goo that we recognize immediately as canned fruit seems even more revolting in this recontextualized version, and instead looks like vomit or the mutilated pulp of internal organs. I am reminded of DFW's short story, Little Expressionless Animals, in which the three year Jeopardy champion, Julie, finds comfort and respite from the burden of her encyclopedic knowledge in univocal words, which are words with only one possible meaning. Alison's maximalist project seems to be the antithesis of univocality.

By mashing together seemingly unrelated and perplexing symbols, Alison inculcates her viewers with her love of the bizarre and unexpected. Her intoxicating sense of pleasure and play belies a dark and insidious undercurrent. Framed in a new context, the insulting way in which early humans are typically depicted in natural history museums seems some how more apparent. Lifeless and lacking in any characteristic idiosyncrasies, the wax figures have been stripped of their humanity and individuality within how they've been represented. The Othering that Alison brings our attention to is not altogether different from Gauguin's imperialistic portrayals of Polynesia, although Gauguin invested more attention and care in romanticizing and eroticizing his primarily female subjects. Gauguin's paintings are so beautiful, that people often fail to recognize the inherent exploitation in finding paradise in another culture, and the blatant misogyny that they represent. He was very strategic and knew how to manipulate his audience with his apocryphal depictions of utopia. Instead of painting the missionaries or the venereal diseases that they brought with them to paradise, Gauguin painted what people wanted to see rather than how things actually were.

The way in which information is disseminated is a dominant subject in Alison's work.  Alison presents us with ideas and never preaches or moralizes, always maintaining a sense of ambiguity and complexity. Her anachronistic mix of both old and new pop cultural imagery is as intriguing as it is puzzling. By distorting linearity and time, Alison calls attention to how spurious conceptions of sequential time are.

Food, for Alison represents sustenance and growth, the body in its fallibility and vulnerability, the tactile, and sensory parts of everyday experience, the wonderfully slimy and gooey aspects of sex, the beauty, the cruelty, the pain, as well as the transitory, and absurd nature of life itself.
The indispensable significance of the role of food in rituals and celebrations is also a central theme in many of Alison's performances. Concocting strange and slimy potions and treats that ooze, explode in your mouth, and tickle your throat, Alison toys with impressions by transforming an otherwise banal encounter,  and infusing it with humor and mystery.