Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sundaes = Fun Days

I used to have this pink bracelet I ‘borrowed’ from a co-counseler at summer camp about four years ago that I never actually returned. It was leather, studded with rhinestones and I really liked it until I lost it at a Los Abandoned show. This was back when a bunch of emo bands were getting huge and for about five minutes it was cool for dudes to rock pink stuff.

The color pink is a major theme in Buff Monster’s work, serving as a primary emotional impetus in Heavy Metal Ice Cream Smile, his new show at the Corey Helford Gallery. The artist has highlighted (pun, booyah) the auspicious color of pink in Asian cultures by displaying throbbing shades of it in digitally perfect landscapes with huge Japanese lettering soaring over the mountaintops and with ubiquitous smiling ghost cherubs with anime-esque eyes dripping in everything from a pale red to a flushed neon salmon.

Mr. Monster used wooden panels mainly. Actually, with the exception of the huge inflated ice cream cone installation (there were free ice cream cones handed out at the opening) I might go on to say exclusively. Not to be gauche, but the pop-surrealism-slash-skateboard-design-on-wood-panel trend was officially spotted by yours truly when I purchased Chapo’s ‘The Obedient’ last year while at the Downtown Art Walk. Not a big deal, but apparently I know what’s awesome (which is, I presume, why you’re reading this blog). It turns out that art on wooden panels is visually pleasing, especially when the art is so focused on purely imaginative subject matter, creating a visual schism between the tangibly real and animated hyper-fantasy. In ‘Slippery Sundae’ an ice cream mountain oozes pink rivers of sugary lava as joyous nipple-tipped phalluses sway about under a sky composed of natural, untouched wood. The dichotomy is unmistakable.

Sometimes Monster appropriates other ideas from fellow street artists such as Banksy and Mr. Brainwash by incorporating his giggly spectral figures into what would otherwise be romantic landscapes from the late Baroque period. Banksy weaves his modern figures into the pieces whereas in ‘Expulsion From Eden’ a grey ghost glossed in some kind of viscera explodes over the painting without regard to the waterfalls, horse-drawn wagons or scenic vistas.

The artist says he listened to heavy metal while painting, which would explain not only the awesome music playing at the reception (Sweet Child O’ Mine, Pour Some Sugar On Me, etc.) but the skull and pentagram motifs that found their way into the work. Some paintings were grey, satanic realizations of Buff Monster’s lollipop ideal yet were driven nonetheless by the same buoyant adolescent enthusiasm. My favorite of these (perhaps of the whole show) was ‘Skull Camouflage’, a work that stuck out as the only one to not feature recognizable figures or features. It was a panel of grey and white camouflage and the only thing that made it Buff Monster was one curving swirl of color in the shape of his idiomatic skull illustration. Maybe after all the ice cream and smiles I found this one the most brutal and thus... the most metal.

Heavy Metal Ice Cream Smile runs at the Corey Helford Gallery until October 2nd.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Patina of Paint Pixels

When ‘Prophecy’ opened at the Cerasoli gallery in Culver City I wasn’t sure what to expect. This was to be Roy Nachum’s first show in Los Angeles and quite frankly I wasn’t too familiar with him. He was born and raised in Jerusalem and attended art academy, then spent three years in the army before moving to New York where he’s been living and working ever since. He’s had a number of solo shows in NYC and France, but so far nothing on the west coast and to be perfectly honest the stuff I had seen didn’t really impress me that much. A bunch of allegorical figurative surrealism I thought. The naked lady is being chased by a bird while an elephant stands in a tree, I get it.

Turns out Nachum had a trick up his sleeve I wasn’t really expecting: the actual experience of the art.

There are a number of times in my life where I can think back and recall times where I’ve stood in front of a canvas and been struck by how differently I’d see the picture if I didn’t see the deep brush strokes or seen how the grain of a wooden panel gave an image added tension or movement. Many times in art there’s no substitute for the experience of standing in a room in front of the work, and ‘Prophecy’ certainly qualifies as one of those times.

Walking into the gallery is the visual equivalent of a sudden fanfare, one with big brassy horns and maybe even a boy’s choir. The canvases are immense, the figures stand before you life-sized and larger, the aforementioned elephants surge from mountain pools. The mythic subject matter, the gray shades, the lushly detailed figurative elements and swaths of intense red all begin to make sense in this scale. Hawks, crowns, martyr’s blood, cherubs, horses and immaculate nudes done in detailed and fluid photorealistic oils made much more sense looming over me in their thunderous magnitude. What before seemed just an illustration in my art journal became the soundtrack for an adventure movie and with the epic dimensions of the pieces themselves, walking amongst the canvases felt as though one had just entered a world that had all the same symbols but a totally different history.

In addition to scale, Nachum provides the eye with a detail whose depth is missed entirely by even the highest resolution photographs: the paint pixels.

Running in perfectly even columns and rows along the canvas the artist has sculpted small squares of paint about the size of a dime which rise about two millimeters off the canvas. They’re hard to notice from far away but as one approaches the painting the squares of pigment give the images a pixelated patina, updating the ancient dream-like themes with a digital logic that seems as hard wired to us as cell phones.

A topless Asian woman shushes us as she’s flanked by white stallions and there’s an intense red that’s been brushed over her face and hands in Silence of Silence. In False Affection a young woman stands holding the string to a red balloon as hawks swoop around her and a young boy is pulling a red thread taut that runs between the woman’s legs. The loss of virginity is an ancient theme but as you move past the image it morphs and shifts not organically but mechanically, a striking contrast between subject matter and technique.

‘Prophecy’ runs through September 16th at Cerasoli Gallery.

Friday, August 21, 2009


I went to India once. Saw the most extreme poverty and heart-wrenching crush of humanity I’ve ever experienced and I really have no desire to go back. Having said that, I did come away appreciating some weird intangibles about the place. The monkeys that would steal your stuff, the betel spit, the orgasm of color, the waves of people and beggars, the poop. Oh the poop. People crapping in the streets, wading in rivers of excrement to fill their water jugs, crapping on the roadside and waving at passerby. It’s a culture shock, but I’m getting off topic.

The point is the experience sticks with you. I took a nap in a nook of the Taj Mahal and awoke to discover my fever had broken and I wanted to get back together with an ex-girlfriend... for example. I’m certainly not saying it’s a magical wonderland or anything, far from it. It’s a very corrupt, alien, scary place a lot of the time but once you get into its logic system, once you adapt to paying a guy to tie your shoes and another to lick your stamps it does ply a certain kind of strange seduction on you.

Carlos Ramos certainly seems to’ve been at the tender mercies of India, which also happens to be the title of his new show at Corey Helford Gallery in Culver City. “India” that is, not... ‘tender mercies of India’.

The color is what first struck me as I walked into the gallery. Much more vibrant than his last show (“Natural History”), the colors leapt from the walls in much as they do under the Red Fort at Agra, the Pink City of Jaipur or the urine-soaked back alleys of Chennai. It’s an idealized vision of India’s history and mythology as seen through a Mickey Mouse costume head, and one can’t help but be enchanted with what would be the perfect India of Ramos’ vision. Balanced and sensuous, the subjects take on a mid-modernist caricature that threatens to veer into the kind of post-modern irony that has become de riguer and frankly overdone, but the artist’s background in animation helped, I think, to bring a relatable element into the work. The style invokes early Chuck Jones (Looney Tunes), then bends the lines even more to create a highly stylized and fluid geometery that seems to move according to the films that might’ve served as inspiration.

One head, two heads, three heads pop up in Lota Champisage. The large jungle cat’s tongue laps at the water in The Extinct Tiger of Delhi and the belly dancer’s voluptuous hips sway under the blue glow of a lantern in Raqs Baladi.

The show is much more about the spirit of India than the place itself. There’s no early Van Gogh peasants at the dinner table, no dirt under the finger-nails. Which is, perhaps, as it should be. When thinking back on my trip I remember the exquisite miniature paintings I saw in Mughal palaces, the myriad displays of dyed fabrics hanging out of windows and strung across avenues, the pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses. This is the India that everyone wants to know, this India of comic book fantasy filled with bouncing, turbaned footmen and mysterious white tigers.

"India" is showing at the Corey Helford Gallery until September 2nd. More images from the show (along with another review) can be found here.

See: The Coronation of Edward VII, Sher Maida, Raqs Baladi and Nataraja and the Divine Dance to Destroy a Weary Universe.