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Wednesday 06.22.11

« Ai Weiwei is free! | Main | Craft Conversation: Elizabeth Whalen »

Rebel Life: Wes Lang's "A Head Full of Dead"

Wes Lang's Greatest Hits.jpg
"Wes Lang's Greatest Hits" (Detail), Wes Lang, 2010

Brooklyn based artist Wes Lang's "A Head Full of Dead" at the downtown Stumptown cafe is an exhibition of the (High)times. This show will be up for a mere three weeks, a short run for an artist of such reputation, and I recommend sitting with these works while you drink your coffee. Visually and audibly rife with the rebellion of an age, Lang's paintings seem to encompass an aspect of American masculinity often dismissed in the art world. Lang seems to somehow infuse these works with a compositional power that turns rather hackneyed imagery into something forceful. The exhibition coincides with the release of Stumptown's most recent limited edition mug set, which Lang designed. The set comes with an embossed leather pouch as well as limited edition embossed Zig Zag rolling papers, the ultimate rock and roll dandy accoutrement. And while the undercurrent of Lang's paintings may teeter on the edge of a 'fuck you I am who I am and I will take up more space than God' kind of attitude, there is something else that keeps them from being this simplistic. They are, in fact, something fantastic, and their horrible beauty holds you before you can write them off as flatly narcissistic or juvenile.

Go see these paintings. They are marvelous and terrible: marvelous in the candy of their indulgent aesthetic, and terrible in their haughty assumptions that the viewer will be captivated enough not to dismiss them at first glance. Lang's language is vibrant and astringent, comprised of the imagery of traditional American tattoos, clip art, and the bumper stickered slogans of a rebellion steeped in sub cultures. The collection of images that comprise each painting are steeped in a sticky nostalgia for the self soothing amusement of teenage boys who doodled on notebook paper during high school. These were the kind of drawings made to induce an escapist fantasy: private, two dimensional worlds in which skulls reigned supreme and where beasts waged battle with naked bombshells as cheerleaders of the periphery.

Wes Lang-I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke.jpg
"I'd Like To Buy The World A Coke" (Detail), Wes Lang, 2010

These images were (and are) an existential American iconography of difficult times and the nerdy cool ways to cope. Lang masks his darkest inquiries into existentialism and fear with a Hell's Angels' sense of machismo, yet it is the attitude towards living that sits just beneath the surface of all of this imagery, an attitude of freedom from the wasted oppression of the societal ideal, from the limited notion of the accepted definition of greatness, and from the terrible threat of the past's dangerous inertia. What is the experience of being alive? What is it to know how to die? The prescient knowledge of death is one of the fiercest complements to life, and it is death that is the vibrant and mortal electric current running through Lang's paintings. In the midst of these questions to himself and thus the viewer, the experience of his life makes itself apparent. Rebellion is celebration in the form of a fluorescent scream and a rose clad top hat. Even the rebellion against beauty itself defines a new beautiful, gnashing its teeth, soaked in the putrid loam of a cohabitating life and death.

Let It Snow.jpg
"Let It Snow" (Detail), Wes Lang, 2010

Lang's childish roots are musings that have matured into beautiful and ferocious dilemmas. As anger and sarcasm crackle palpably in these works, Lang purposefully undermines the cultural positive- attitude-no-matter-what-despite-reality American expectation while coincidentally splaying open the hypocrisy of its murderous political truths. The act of picture making renders the intention of significance to the image. Lang's voice becomes as clear as day, and his constituents become a social phenomenon. Men with long hair who love metal and tattoos and laud proudly the plebeian joys of Americana stand as arbiters of a holistic freedom. The artist's language resounds in a people's chorus of reclaimed Americana that is at once over indulgent yet necessary.

Posted by Amy Bernstein on June 22, 2011 at 21:57 | Comments (0)


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