While trendy art centers like Chelsea and Williamsburg begin to look more alike as both continue to transform into icons of corporate gentrification, fresh ideas and artistic ingenuity can be found within the small unbecoming galleries that populate the East Village and Lower East Side neighborhoods. Located on East 9th Street, between avenues B and C, the Phatory gallery features "Killing Time" by Andrew Kearney. Down further on East 2nd, close to Second Avenue, the Big Cat gallery is exhibiting a group show titled "Outlaw Printmakers".
With light bulbs arranged at alternate levels upon three white walls, Andrew Kearney’s kinetic conceptual installation envelopes the entire gallery space of the Phatory. Since each socket is a black, ceramic-cast of a stuffed toy bunny, this piece initially suggest the notion of frivolous play in the presence of absence that so often fills the conservative setting of any gallery space. A black trench coat consisting of additional light bulbs moves slowly, back and forth, along a cable that is extended across the room. In reaction to the amount of noise taking place outside of the gallery, the lights glimmer at various intensities. Kearney’s abstract work utilizes the faculty of performance that brings the three-dimensional object closer to the act of verbalization. The additional use of electrical circuitry with mechanical sensors further closes the gap that exists between art and everyday happenings of life in the world.
The continued play on conventional meanings as they exist between word and image are explored further in the work of several artists participating in the "Outlaw Printmakers" show. Consisting of contemporary print work that skews the vernacular with the imaginative, seventeen artists, including Nick Bubash, Gary Panter, and Txutxo Perez, use exaggerated caricature to represent critical interpretations of contemporary culture and capture the continued development of new meanings that emerge out of mundane forms. As an immigrant from Mexico who currently lives in San Francisco, Perez’s work in particular carries the most marginality since the iconography within his prints is neither Chicano nor purely Mexican. "El Corrido Porno-Pop" for example, is laid out in a triptych format reflecting the thin branches of Japanese bonsai trees along with a depiction of Krishna who looks down upon two nude women sharing an erotic pose. An old Western cowboy looks on from the far left, playing music as tiny black devils dance upon the mountainside in the distance.
"Flash" by Nick Bubash presents a series of altered tattoo designs that are not typically seen upon the flash icons exhibited in tattoo shops. Most often associated with the taboo, tattoos function as visual templates that are incorporated within the substance of who one is. Like performance art, the process of tattooing serves to bridge art with life. Kitsch imagery inherent within the visual content of tattoo iconography not only adds legitimacy to the practice of body art but also introduces a new site of creativity that currently influences contemporary art. Bubash’s depictions of a small chubby baby wearing boxing gloves and a woman’s hand squeezing the blood out of a heart are both subversive alternatives to standard icons that denote strength, power, love and belonging.
Lighter meanings surface in the work of Gary Panter. "Pulse Writing" for example, emerges from the happy-go-lucky fantasy world that the artist once created on a larger scale for "Pee-Wee’s Playhouse" in the 1980s. Small cartoon figures of a dog and cat are wallpapered vertically upon the surface of this piece. Using a flower and a small round, possibly scatological mark, the artist slightly differentiates the position of both animals across the picture plane. Another piece that captures a deeper more abstract fictive environment is "Savior Shoes." The imagery represented follows no logic beyond the artist’s, keeping this work free of a definitive association.
Together, both shows at Big Cat gallery and the Phatory present coarse, raw artistic styles that bring relevance back to the process of articulation through visual imagery while using performance and words to suggest new modes of verbalization. Truly alternative, these art spaces are concerned with showcasing creative expressions that have received short shrift from mainstream institutions which currently find themselves co-opting exhibitions of emerging styles for the satisfaction of market trends. The artistic work on view, moreover, reacts strongly to the consensus created by mass media, which has placed a challenge upon the development of individual identity since the constant flow of imagery serves the purpose of constructing a singular national persona, nearly eliminating meaning out of form.
Jill Connor teaches at Parson's new school.