Michael Pellew: #1 Under Control World Tour

#1 Under Control World Tour featured ten drawings and four paintings by the prolific Brooklyn based artist in Western Exhibitions’ intimate back gallery. The tight installation felt appropriate for Pellew’s populous works; as usual the drawings were teeming with congregations of favorite music and TV icons, the occasional friend in real life, and fantastic alternate identities…

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Byron Smith: Cover Girls at Institute 193

Byron Smith’s Cover Girls offers earnest and adoring tributes to glamorous movie, TV, and music industry icons. Smith’s drawings are typified by a hyperbolic allure, with an archetypal framework revealed collectively throughout the portrait series; this becomes most evident in simplified yet distinctive feminine features - elongated eyelashes radiating outward from almond-shaped lids, cherry red lacquered fingernails and lips, pronounced cupid’s bows, and wide, toothy grins....

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Susan Te Kahurangi King: Drawings 1975 - 1989

Susan Te Kahurangi King’s current exhibition marks her second, highly anticipated solo show at Andrew Edlin, following the critically acclaimed debut of the New Zealand-based artist with the space in 2014, Drawings from Many Worlds. Known for her vibrant and frenetic biomorphic abstractions, Drawings 1975 - 1989 curated by Chris Byrne and Robert Heald features a lesser known series from her prolific and consistently impressive practice...

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The Effortless Humor of Michael Pellew

Michael Pellew, Untitled, 2016, Mixed Media on Paper, 11"x17"

Michael Pellew, Michael and Latoya Texting on the Beach, 2015, Acrylic on Canvas, 12"x9"

Michael Pellew, British Platter, 2015, Mixed Media on Paper, 14"x17"

One of the fantastic surprises at the Outsider Art Fair this year was our experience with the work of Michael Pellew. Pellew’s work is unassuming, and in the context of the fair particularly blends in - a style defined by repetition, drawing within a simple system, and the use of unconventional materials (markers). We were more familiar with his series of small original drawings marketed as greeting cards, which typically feature a grouping of four or five figures (available at Opening Ceremony in Manhattan and LA). In a larger scale, the voice only available in snippets in smaller works unfolds to become an astonishing comedic performance.

The repetition and economy of visual language in his work is necessary to the humor - each figure articulated in an identical manner, with just a few distinctive features describing its specific identity. The supreme ease with which each character enters the scene via this agile visual vernacular accounts for the works’ pace and timing. There's an exciting cleverness in the way the simple archetype of the figure takes on the identity of countless celebrities, analogous to a skilled impressionist mimicking pop culture icons in rapid succession. Pellew seems to be compiling an ongoing, shifting catalog of celebrities; those with apparent relationships or categorizations are sporadically interrupted with unexpected pairings (Princess Diana and Lemmy Kilmister) or fictional personas (Lauryn Hill M.D. from Long Island College Hospital, The Phanton Lord). Viewers with an extensive knowledge of pop culture are highly rewarded by the ability to recognize the abundance and subtlety of his references.

Michael Pellew, Untitled, 2015, Mixed Media on Paper, 22"x30"

Humor is an important element in many works that don't necessarily make us laugh, but truly funny art like Pellew’s (beyond the occasional clever moment or inside joke), is very uncommon. Crystallizing the elusive and ephemeral quality of comedy into a permanent art object is extremely difficult to achieve. Usually the most overtly funny approach is to employ an explicit punchline that rests on an impressive technical or procedural spectacle; artists that exemplify this approach are those like Wayne White or Eric Yahnker. 

Eric Yahnker,  Beegeesus , 2005, 13 x 10 x 10 in.  "Bible whited-out except that which sequentially spells Bee Gees" image via  www.ericyahnker.com

Eric Yahnker, Beegeesus, 2005, 13 x 10 x 10 in.

"Bible whited-out except that which sequentially spells Bee Gees" image via www.ericyahnker.com

Pellew’s humor, however, is more nuanced, so in the absence of a punchline, his approach relies on absolute fluency rather than overt technical prowess. The quintessential example of this brand of humor is Raymond Pettibon; works that appear effortless afford the artist a more casual voice, equipped to cultivate a more dynamic interaction between the work and viewer. When it's less obvious that there's a joke present, the viewer tunes into a more acute examination of tone and timing in search of the artist's intention. 
 

Raymond Pettibon, image via  www.raypettibon.com

Raymond Pettibon, image via www.raypettibon.com

Whereas Pettibon uses this approach to insert sardonic or satirical moments of levity into his generally grim oeuvre, Pellew instead engages this sort of humor with a lighter and even silly sensibility; he creates an abundantly bright and positive space that is captivating. The conceptual foundation of his work becomes about treading the line between earnestly identifying as an artist, or slyly engaging in play-acting the role of an artist. Walton Ford has described using play-acting (as a scientific illustrator) in a similar way as an entry point into comedy. In Pellew’s case, the performance is broader, and in its execution more engrossing - guiding you through his alternate world, you're always uncertain if he’s serious, even as he crosses well over into the realm of absurdity.

Michael Pellew, Michael Jackson and Bubbles, 2014, Acrylic on Canvas, 14"x11"

In the affable universe he realizes, there’s virtuosity in the way moments of comedic surprise cut sharply through. The lingering experience of these pieces isn’t static, but a dreamlike memory of an event unfolding; line-ups of celebrities…everyone had a pepsi…they were all hanging out around a limousine eating McDonalds…and then Marilyn Manson is offering his famous burger and fries. It’s an alternate reality composed of familiar characters and Pellew is leading us along, introducing each of them, all in his voice - but really it's the viewer’s voice. You are left walking away amused, incredibly satisfied, but not entirely sure what has just happened. 

Pellew has been working at LAND Gallery’s studio for over ten years and participated in numerous exhibitions in New York, including group shows at Christian Berst Art Brut and the MOMA. His work has been acquired by many reputable collectors, including Spike Lee, Sufjan Stevens, Citi Bank, JCrew and PAPER Magazine.

Michael Pellew, Making a Band (detail)

Terri Bowden

 

In her boldly marked drawings, Terri Bowden portrays the figures as if they are intense, strikingly present memories - fleshy and visceral in some aspects, but broadly summarized, distorted, and surreal in others. Faces are rendered with a realism and clarity that evokes vulnerability, re-contextualizing familiar icons of distant pop culture with a mysterious, untold narrative. Bowden’s work achieves the uncommon combination of dreaminess and gritty power reminiscent of Philip Guston. Recent exhibitions include Vis-à-vis curated by Michael Mahalchick at Andrew Edlin Gallery (New York) and stARTup Fair (San Francisco); her work will also be included in the upcoming exhibition Indigo Mind at StoreFrontLab (San Francisco).

Bowden works at Creative Growth's studio in Oakland, California; from Creative Growth:

"Terri’s whimsical and quirky sense of humor is delightfully evident in her artwork. Having befriended other albinos–who, like herself, are legally blind–Terri often uses albino animals and people as the subject of her drawings. Whether it’s reimagining Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, pop music icon Michael Jackson, or a nondescript winking punk rocker, Terri’s ability to capture the nuances of human expression exceeds far beyond the photos she uses as reference.  Her fixation on albinism extends to ceramics as well, with her pigmentless fruit, Hershey’s kisses, cookies, rabbits and ducks, all executed in the same whitish pink palette that appears in her drawings." (more)

David Holt

  

Holt's work-space in Project Onward's beautiful Bridgeport studio. 

"David Holt (b. 1984) expressed an early interest in music, romance and celebrities through his artwork as a member of Chicago’s Gallery 37, an after-school job-training program in the arts. In 2009, with the death of his grandmother, Holt turned his attention to obituaries, or “memorial portraits” of important persons. His canvas painting and drawings on cardboard are direct and show his sense of immediacy – he begins to work as soon as obituaries are posted and drawings are typically finished in one day." (more)

Long-time artist of Project Onward in Chicago, David Holt is also a long-time favorite of ours; he's presently the only artist represented in the collections of both Disparate Minds writers. Each time a work is sold, he adds it to a detailed log that he maintains, including the piece's intended geographical destination. Holt's works are simple in form and direct in technique - his graphite and colored pencil drawings are most often fairly small and executed on cardboard. Somehow, though, he prolifically creates work with a presence and gravity that's mysterious and consistently compelling. 

Joe Zaldivar

"Mel's drive-in on Sunset Strip, West Hollywood."

"Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana, home of the Indianapolis Colts, and was home to this year's Final Four and the NCAA national basketball championship."

"Street map of Ferguson, Missouri including north central St. Louis county and Lambert airport area."

"Detailed street map of South Gate and Lynwood and portions of Compton, Cudahy, Downey, Paramount and Watts."

From intricate maps to extensive interiors, Zaldivar's colored pencil and marker works on paper are a spectacle of diligent truth to their various subjects - street/public transit maps, LA area landmarks, disposable local business mailers, and pop culture references. Self-taught and prolific, he has been making art since early childhood; presently he's a studio artist at First Street Gallery Art Center (part of the Tierra del Sol Foundation).  

Zaldivar recently exhibited work in Wunderkammer, an invitational group show at Pitzer College's Nichols Gallery and previously at First Street Gallery. He currently has work in Own It, a First Street Gallery benefit show at the Ginger Eliot Exhibition Center. He has also acquired several commissions from local businesses including Claremont’s Some Crust Bakery and Folk Music Center, Spaggi’s restaurant in Upland, Nate & Al’s Delicatessen in Beverly Hills, Western Rentals in Fontana, and Hamer Toyota in Mission Hills. 

 

You can follow Zaldivar and see more of his works here.