"My Sinews Take No Rest" 2007 Jessie Rose Vala
For those of you with a penchant for the undead and the inner workings of their lost souls, head to Motel, and quickly, to see the remnants of Jessie Rose Vala's solo show "The Torturous Veil" which goes down this weekend. These large scale graphite pieces are delicate emanations of flesh and symbol, vivid and rotten, and rich with a contemporary mythology. These large drawings defy our age in a way, giving power to drawing and the possibility of intricate narratives therein. Vala began this body of work with the piece in Motel's entryway, "Interior Falls" in 2006. Within this piece, the nascent elements of Vala's subject matter surface. She introduces us to a rather literary methodology and a bevy of art historical references and classical tropes she employs to shape these narratives. This first piece sets the stage for Vala's concerns, as her female protagonist does battle and is coincidentally aided by a veiled being which floats around her in her journey between fragmented terrestrial bits. This being seems to represent the duality within the self who poses as both demon and angel in an ongoing existential struggle. These science fictionesque metaphors are somewhat psychedelic in imagery, and steeped in a sort of magical mysticism reminiscent of classic fairy tale and literature. While Vala's graphite keeps these pieces delicate and somewhat grounded, the choice of medium is somewhat of an enjoyable conundrum. In the midst of the hipster art world's monster mania, with its fluorescent yarn and varieties of enamels ad infinitum, Vala's use of a pencil and paper, even for her three dimensional pieces, sets her apart somewhat. In certain ways, Vala's drawings almost seem clearer in the midst of it all, as the viewer perhaps is not concurrently blinded and hipnotized (sic). Facial flesh eaten away in hypercolor seems not nearly as slippery between the fingertips and lips, and the gentle rendering of eyes rolling back in skulls is so much more sordid in shades of gray as worms slink in and around vacant nostrils.
"We Deserve To Know The Light" 2007 Jessie Rose Vala
As one moves into the main gallery space, the next suite of drawings exhibit Vala's heightened level of narrative as she continues to explore the breadth to which she can take these pieces. The drawing here is more direct, and the narratives and symbolic imagery become much more involved, their metaphors more multi dimensional. Each monster/goddess/ heroine's debodied head floats three times around her respective interior story, a filmic move by Vala to reveal interior and exterior psychologies at once. To dissect these too much is too turn them into graphic novels, cult bibles, and hieroglyphs, yet there is simply so much myth and story to each of them, that one's natural inclination is to want to decode them. Vala even encourages this by using a generous helping of mythological tropes from various cultures to set her lyrical order, and one wonders if she in fact does want them decoded and demystified, to assume their roles as cult heroines in the midst of our every day living, to be consulted during our own struggles as commonly as Isis in ancient Egypt, to whom the title of the show refers.
Relief of the goddess Isis from the Temple Philae
One of the most curious thoughts with which to leave this show is the unwavering prevalence of this type of character and imagery within our culture. Vala seems one of the pioneers when moving these tropes into the specific genre of drawing and painting, yet film and literature have endlessly explored these demons and how deeply rooted are the monsters within us. Of course, the world news is much more horrific than any imagined ghoul or goddess, yet this of course reifies these monsters' roles and solidifies our need for their character, their example. Whether heroine or villain, these characters (especially the great ones) transcend time to warn and remind us of our frailties and wicked capacities. It is no wonder they continue to generate cult followings, becoming almost religious in nature. Macbeth and his tortured Lady warned us of the thirst for power, Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" intended to illustrate the dangers of our dreaming too hard the reality of our technological and psychological utopias, Frankenstein, J.R. Tolkien, Tim Burton, William Blake, Matthew Barney. . . The list is endless. Even the contemporary musical group Radiohead's latest album includes a track entitled, "Bodysnatchers", supposedly about a zombie with a soul.
Vala continues these myths of wickedness with the hope we find some sort of salvation and beauty within them (us). She brings the valor and play of myth back into the world of contemporary art, introduces the element of science fiction, and encourages the analysis of the world's current debacles.
In Victorian and Gothic fantasy stories Dopplegangers and the "changed" were constantly used to signify the double lives many people had to lead because of heavy repression. Today I think its a little different, with so much multitasking everyone is leading double, triple or even quadruple lives and Vala seems to channel the flux states inherent in modern life.
The cost of so much freedom is possibly being pulled in so many directions?
Upon a quick first glance, it is easy to dismiss Jessie Rose Vala's work as just another "indie hipster artist." Whatever that may mean. It seems as if you have seen all this before. Zombies? Check. Geometric landscapes? Check. Slightly ironic and naive hand-drawn style? Check.
However, it is because of amazing work like Vala's that I truly wish this style of drawing never became so popular. She deserves to be in this genre alone, because I have yet to see anything else compare. Her drawings are so rich in mythology and mystery, one is compelled to denounce any other "indie" drawing as a half-hearted effort.
It's a real shame that this artwork doesn't photograph very well, because the graphite looks beautiful in the flesh.