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Tuesday 04.05.11

« art school openings | Main | Sound Moves in Color: Nick Cave at SAM »

No Painting Left Behind at Rocksbox

Painting by Erin Allen, Keith Broadwee and Issac Gray at Rocksbox

With seventeen paintings from the collaborative efforts of Erin Allen, Keith Broadwee and Issac Gray on the first floor, and another eight (one multi-panel) by the Icelandic group Gotulist i bjorg kassi!, on the smaller, second floor of Rocksbox, ecstatic enthusiasm is evidenced in the sheer number of loose, almost haphazard pieces. Think a two-dimensional version of Paul McCarthy’s “Painter” or “Family Tyranny” without the suggestiveness his props provide. Envision very literal scatology and sacrilege that comes from more sophomoric, if equally troubling subject matter of the master.

Install view: Icelandic group Gotulist i bjorg kassi!

Install view of paintings by Erin Allen, Keith Broadwee and Issac Gray

Exhibiting these two groups together is stylistically appropriate. However, to say that the two floors of Rocksbox Contemporary contain paintings of exuberant immaturity is incomplete without remarking that the paintings themselves are purposefully atrocious. Yet again, in all that such a white-wall ed setting implies, one hardly expects to see depictions of pissing and shitting in such plentitude, so the paintings manage to maintain some level of impact, and to this degree, they are successful. They are not unlike the synaesthesia one might experience in the bedroom of a pouty young male as his demeanor takes on a sardonic glee with the arrival of an audience of several like-minded collaborators. Then someone makes a television show of this scene and calls it “The Kippenbergers.” Each week’s episode is a reworking of the same theme : the kids pull another fast one on their oblivious and stultified parents. It’s something we recognize as part and parcel of the situation comedies that proliferate on American TV but are expected to watch and embrace as our own. Serious art = bad; bad art = too smart to care. Even the equation is banal, but we ‘get’ it, and therefore it is reinforcing... comforting.

by Erin Allen, Keith Broadwee and Issac Gray

Mimicking Paul McCarthy and Martin Kippenberger, or drawing superheroes and nekked women, does have a place in the development of many young male artists, but the artists at Rocksbox seem too old to be written off as young reprobates defacing textbooks or scribbling on their notebook covers. And in that they are presented in a gallery of some alternative esteem, I feel it is incumbent to find a way to move beyond their circle jerk of angst cum guffaw. In other words, what am I missing?

Install view of Icelandic group painting

Initially, the cavalier method with which the paint has been applied to canvas, coupled with the untoward subject matter of the work by both groups, allows one to be dismissive, but there is a difference in their approaches that make for subtle shifts in a viewer’s demeanor moving between floors. It is by reading the artists’ statements that we begin to garner more clues. Both groups use the word ‘primal’ to describe their approach to painting. For the former group, it is the primal scream via “sex and drugs and rock and roll and life and death and nature.” Everything is up for grabs and refinement is leaving a pretty corpse. Forever young. For the Icelandic collaborators, it is the “gist of” meconium (the fetal feces of the newborn, and a word with an etymology suggesting poppies). Whether or not actual meconium is used (as it is intimated), it nonetheless is the metaphor for the primal first shit (Shit. To say the word feels good.) that represents the world before separation from the womb and the bringing of inevitable pain thereafter. One should start painting at birth, for therein one will find liberation. Spreading paint serves to ease the pain. Fuck the viewer/parent.

Still, if we entertain the notion that the artists’ are being sincere when they state a primal need to make these paintings, then, at least according to Arthur Janov, the founder of primal therapy, there is a real purpose to purging one’s pain and suffering (a pain that begins to accumulate at birth, and in other fields of psychology would be associated with a separation anxiety, or, as in psychoanalysis, lack and desire) in such a demonstrative manner, with no social constraints. Anything less, perpetuates (arguably inescapable) suffering. There is a real sense of exploring this pain upstairs, and following this line, it is a wonder there are not a lot more paintings. Downstairs is more of a debauch, and while certainly not timid, it feels like the artists are attempting to be spectacularly transgressive, indeed, the Bad Boys of Taboo. Crying for attention... love.

Depending on whom you talk to, the attempts at efficiency and efficacy of our nation’s No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 has either standardized, and therefore streamlined, the education of our youth in the public schools, or stultified individuality into a bland commonality. One of the main complaints against the governments’ (both state and federal) regarding the No Child Left Behind is that the states set their own standards, and therefore the bar can be set at such a level to guarantee that all but the most hopelessly lost students make the grade. The schools remain funded while mediocrity becomes as an aspiration. (After all, ours is a service economy.)

In that questions of a desired effect versus potential remain throughout that bureaucratic process, the current exhibit at Rocksbox makes much the same mistake. In short, and in the spirit of the exhibit, how might the artists avoid appearing as if the rule of thumb is an ebullient purge of said appendage to a nose with another like digit as butt plug? As it stands, it is difficult to determine whether the ensuing mayhem is liberating or nothing more than an exclamation of a resolute, reactionary alienation masked as an enduring communion of intent. Is this a case of acting out a manifesto that demands either a much younger or more accepting audience that doesn’t have to first consider and get past a lower common denominator; and if this is indeed the point, to what end? How does the recognition of a purgative drive through debased imagery and painting styles give rise to compassion or appreciation within the viewer?

So many questions, when all the artists might be trying to say is that the world has been and continues to be on its way to hell in a hand basket. If so, it seems too simple, just like the paintings, and the only recourse then is to wonder if, even hope, the painting process provided some emotional relief for these artists.

Posted by Patrick Collier on April 05, 2011 at 8:28 | Comments (0)


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