Tuesday, November 2, 2010

From the street to the gallery

by Louis Nahlik

"Westward Expansion"
Philip Slein Gallery, St. Louis, MO
September 16-October 30, 2010

New Pop I” and “Ink Vehicles!
St. Louis Artists' Guild, St. Louis, MO
September 5-October 29, 2010

Shepard Fairey. Rise Above Fist. 2007. Screen Print and Collage on Paper, 42"x29". Image courtesy of Philip Slein Gallery.

The segue of street and graffiti art from the street to the gallery has become more and more the norm. Banksy, the world’s biggest street artist, had a solo show at the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery last year, and Jean-Michel Basquiat has had a small resurgence recently in a film and a retrospective at The Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (his lifelong dream). One of the most popular contemporary street artists, Shepard Fairey, has been all over the news since his iconic “Hope” poster aided President Obama’s campaign in 2008. So it is fitting that one of Fairey’s pieces, Rise Above Fist (2007), opened the show “Westward Expansion,” on view at the Philip Slein Gallery. The show, curated by Justin Giarla, is an extraordinary example of the blurring between street and gallery art.

Dan Zettwoch. Assorted Doodles. Screenprint, Ink, Marker, and Pencil on Paper and Cardboard. Photograph by Louis Nahlik.

Two separate but related shows at the St. Louis Artists’ Guild, “New Pop I” by Stan Chisholm, and “Ink Vehicles!” by Dan Zettwoch, are similarly street-influenced, though still gallery-oriented, perhaps moreso than "Westward Expansion." “New Pop I” consists of four characters on paper that Chisholm has suspended from the walls as well as a collection of his “one liners,” described by the Artists' Guild as “a museum of orphaned advice from an omniscient voice whispering this generations truisms that have yet to solidify as true.” The one liners include: NeverInHistoryHasACauseBeenFaithfulToOnlyOneEffect, DoEverythingMore, PrideAndGrossGroceries, OldSoulsDieYoungerThanYou, and my favorite, AdultsReplaceImaginationWithReference. They are simple reflections of life in the Twitter-generation, slyly humorous yet reflective and poignant. Like street art, the one-liners are very of-the-moment. They are immediate, lasting only until a new artist spray-paints over them.

Stan Chisolm. (left) The Twins. 2010; (right) Pride. 2010. Photograph by Louis Nahlik.

Chisholm’s four characters in the show are more lasting than the one liners, but still largely street influenced. They are big, each about 5 feet tall, are made with ink and marker on paper, and attached with Styrofoam to the cream-colored gallery walls, on which Chisholm has drawn simple horizon lines to ground the pieces. The Twins (2010) is a depiction of a male and female connected twin with one head and two faces, looking opposite directions. The male wears boxing gloves and the female has a beak-like mouth. The head itself is a block-form, reminiscent of cartoons, manga, or Star Wars. The woman holds a wire which is attaches to the flags of the next piece, Pride (2010). Pride is a fallen soldier, a character lying prostrate on the ground with graves in the background and flags like Nepalese prayer flags blowing in the gallery’s breeze above him. This character’s head is more like a Star Wars Storm Trooper’s than anything, and ties the work into sci-fi or fantasy art. The best character of the four is Cape (2010). It is a falling hero: a character with shoelaces untied, eyes closed, limp, and upside-down, falling towards the earth, his cape trailing behind him in defeat. All of the pieces deal with failure of some sort, some type of failing that Chisholm is able to capture and amplify on the walls of the gallery.

Dan Zettwoch. Lou Thesz, James Eads, Mike Shannon, Redd Foxx. 2010. Three-Color Screenprints on Chipboard, 18”x24”. Photograph by Louis Nahlik.

The other show on the first floor of the gallery, “Ink Vehicles!,” by Dan Zettwoch, is a collection of numerous printed works done by Zettwoch (who, along with Kevin Huizenga writes and illustrates “Amazing Facts & Beyond with Leon Beyond” in The Riverfront Times). The prints are gorgeous, colored and printed perfectly. Many are St. Louis-related, including his St. Louis Folk Icons series: Lou Thesz, James Eads, Mike Shannon, and Redd Foxx, all 3-color screenprints on chipboard, 18”x24,” 2010. All four prints are filled with the image of the titular man in the middle filled with facts and quotes and smaller illustrations around, blanketing the entire piece with imagery, causing you to look at them longer than you normally would. There are also two beautiful St. Louis food-related prints, The Slinger, another 3-color screenprint, 20”x30,” depicting a dripping sandwich, and St. Louis Style, a 12”x32” 3-color screenprint depicting a brain sandwich, St. Paul sandwich, StL style pizza, toasted ravioli, gooey butter cake, Vess soda, and frozen custard. Zettwoch has also filled the walls with various other prints, concert posters, t-shirts, assorted doodles, and other errata. They exhibit his extraordinary technical prowess and creativity. All are obviously done by the same hand but are varied enough in style to maintain interest. The process and sketch wall is especially interesting, seeing his eraser marks and the sketches on various pieces of paper and scraps of cardboard. Zettwoch is less street-influenced than Chisholm, but the prints in and of themselves are very representative of stencil graffiti. Zettwoch’s work is also very current and contemporary, bringing you in with its color and keeping you in with its detail, much like graffiti.

Greg Gossel. Lindsay 2, Lindsay 1, Mischa 2, Mischa 1. Acrylic, Silkscreen, Collage, Graphite, and Spray Paint on Stretched Canvas, 48"x48". Image courtesy of Philip Slein Gallery.

Casey Gray’s two pieces at Philip Slein, Her Fume and Miss Conception 2, as well as Above’s Sex at Noon, are most similar to Zettwoch’s pieces, especially in terms of the color and flatness of the pieces. Blek le Rat’s work is the most obvious graffiti work, two of which, Checkpoint Charlie and Man Who Walks Through Walls, are pictures of his actual street work. Fairey’s fist piece, mentioned above, is probably the best example of the convention between street and gallery art. A fist done in Fairey’s trademark style rises to the sky atop a red and white patterned background. On the wrist is a watch with “Obey” on the band and a sliver of Andre the Giant on the face. Fairey encourages us to fight the man, but remember to get back to work on time; street art meet gallery art. Other pieces in the show are extraordinarily Pop art influenced, namely Greg Gossel’s Liechtenstein-esque piece, Record, and Lindsay 2, Lindsay 1, Mischa 1, and Mischa 2, four pieces similar to Warhol’s Jackie and Marilyn prints. Gossel’s pieces are painted and printed on collages made up of tabloids and other printed materials in which the exploits of Lindsay Lohan and Mischa Barton are gossiped. They are great pieces, alone and as a foursome, and show how Pop art is eternally contemporary. They draw you in from the back wall of the main gallery and, when seen up close, are even more rewarding because of the texture and words from the collages, rewarding continual view like Zettwoch’s work. The other pieces in “Westward Expansion” are impressive and help meld the street/gallery relationship.

Stan Chisolm. Cape. 2010. Photograph by Louis Nahlik.

The three shows together blur the line between street and gallery art, and exhibit phenomenal examples of why that is happening more and more in contemporary art. Street is off-the-cuff and of the moment, something that gallery art can forget to be. Showing the work in galleries has an interesting effect on the pieces and the artists themselves, giving them a sense of legitimacy, whereas their work on the street is largely illegal and disruptive (maintaining their street identity by presenting the work under their aliases is another facet of street art that you can’t help but notice). Bringing the street to the gallery is a great way to keep art interesting and current and will only increase in occurrence.

The exhibits highlighted in this posting recently closed. However, new exhibits open on November 12, 2010 at both Philip Slein Gallery and St. Louis Artists' Guild. Philip Slein Gallery is located at 1319 Washington Avenue, St. Louis, MO. 314/621-4634. Gallery hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. St. Louis Artists' Guild is located at Two Oak Knoll Park, St. Louis, MO. Gallery hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 12-4 p.m.

Louis Nahlik is a Fall 2010 Intern at Art Saint Louis. A St. Louis native, Louis is a 2010 graduate of UM-St. Louis, where he earned a Bachelor of Liberal Studies in Art History & Studio Art.