As interest in the worlds of “low-brow” and pop-surrealism continue to grow, so does the number of different artists avidly participating in them and, on a lesser level, the forums that they have to present their work through. While the portal for us to view a broader variety of unique personal visions has been widened, the platform for more derivative work to be showcased has grown as well. This, of course, is to be expected from any burgeoning artform. For example, early hip-hop music was primarily “good time” and “party”-based until Grand Master Flash and the Furious 5 unleashed the potent social awareness of “The Message” onto the world in 1982. Later on, Public Enemy came in with a more militant, political style and N.W.A. broke ground by bringing aggressively profane gangster rap to the suburban masses. Rap music has evolved and, periodically, a breakthrough group such as these will smash through and open the door for similar acts to come up in the game and get their voices heard. However, it’s important to recognize that the Wu-Tang Clans of the world are few and far between and, for every Tupac Shakur, there are a thousand Ja Rules and 50 Cents kickin up Bentley tire dirt all over his firmly imprinted footsteps. The art “game” isn’t much different and, for every mind-blowing master painter like Ron English, there are hundreds of others simply riding the aesthetics laid out by the innovators that have come before them and auto-tuning out sub-par Mark Ryden/Marion Peck knockoffs. One of the greatest things about the underground contemporary art world is it’s wide-open potential for amazing new viewpoints, but, when everybody’s shit starts looking alike, it becomes just as vapid and soulless and any other surface-based craft that focuses on the marketing before the substance of a product.
Two particular artists who have seemingly avoided the pitfalls of so many contemporaries without effort are New York painter/illustrator, Travis Louie and sculptor Kris Kuksi from Kansas. Louie and Kuksi have become notable standouts in the contemporary art world for each of their incredibly unique styles and respective visions. Of course, if one was to pick their styles apart, certain influences would likely make themselves apparent, but their works are not limited by the aesthetics of those that have inspired them. When you see a piece of work from either artist, the technique and imagery is unmistakably all their own. This month both artists have consecutive shows running side by side at Seattle‘s Roq La Rue, which has regularly proven itself to be one of the genres most consistent and discerning galleries over the last 10 plus years.
TRAVIS LOUIE – “THE CREATURE SHOW”
I first discovered the work of commissioned illustrator-turned-fine-art painter, Travis Louie, through the cover art that he provided for Les Claypool‘s Of Fungi and Foe album and live concert DVD, Fancy. Even as commissioned pieces, the art would have been great, but the reason that Louie‘s imagery truly worked so well for the projects is because he had much more than just his technical abilities on display. The old-world Victorian gray-scale and sepia-toned characters are the type of subject matter regularly explored by the artist, not just isolated concepts filtered through his skill-set for those particular projects. Louie‘s patented use of oddities, mixed with 19th century Dandy portraiture in his art makes it fairly evident as to how he’s won the admiration of the old-timey suit, bowler hat, monkey and pigface mask wearing PRIMUS frontman/bass-virtuoso so easily; it’s a match made in distinctly obscure aesthetic heaven.
Opening night for the exhibit fell on Friday, April 8th and was held from 6 – 9pm. We showed up at Roq la Rue quite a bit later than we had originally intended and, by the time that we finally did arrive, all of the copies of Travis’ book, Curiosities had long sold-out at the venue. With his black long-sleeve shirt and lengthy -yet restrained- pony-tail, the artist was graciously speaking with guest, while resembling some sort of new-age love guru. He appeared to have a medallion around his neck but, upon closer inspection, it revealed itself to be a mid-size magnifying glass. It was still a sizable crowd and, no doubt, a good amount of people there wanted Louie‘s attention. He gave it freely and humbly, reciprocating the appreciation to the attendees that they were showing for his work. The above photo of one fan’s signed copy of Curiosities -featuring a large personalized illustration and autograph- works as a testament to both the graciousness of Travis and to benefits of making it out to these openings.
Louie‘s work has always reflected such influences as Edwardian society, 19th Century photography, film noir, and German expressionistic movies, a-la Fritz Lang‘s METROPOLIS. Primarily restricting himself to a black/grey/white color palette, Travis uses really small brushes to apply thin layers of acrylic paint in glazes over super tight graphite drawings. Through his perfection of this method, the artist has managed to emulate old Victorian-era portraiture so well that his work is regularly mistaken as authentic photographs that have simply been retouched. I’ve always wanted to view the pieces in person, but I honestly I don’t know what I had expected to discover. Travis‘ work is so flawless and the finished products are so smooth that seeing them up close does little to alleviated any awe or mystery behind his technique.
Both Kuksi and Louie‘s exhibits together, didn’t quite fill the entire space. Upon entering the gallery, the right wall was still displaying some of the impressive work from last month’s Hi-Fructose annual group show invitational. “The Creature Show” was approximately 10 pieces in size, with 9 individual works and 2 more that operate as a set by showcasing the front and back of the same subject. It has often been easy to draw comparisons between the painter’s subjects and people like John “The Elephant Man” Merrick or the likes of carnival freaks. The sharply dressed “women” and “gentlemen” of his paintings are typically only featured through portraits of the upper body. While they generally have what could be considered “mutant”, “grotesque”, and/or “monster” heads mounted onto their finely primped torsos, any potentially frightening elements are overpowered by the sad, gentle, soulful, kind, and humanistic qualities that they exude. Louie‘s “Creature Show” doesn’t veer much from this formula. One of the major differences, this time around, are that he is experimenting with more full body shots and of his characters. Another new addition is that, although some of the latest offerings are still bust paintings of dignified otherworldly mutants, half of them feature more classic human figures coexisting with non-anthropomorphic creatures at their sides. Most likely, this new direction for the pieces can be attributed to the stories that accompany them. In the past, Louie has made multiple references to the writings in his journal and the fact that the ideas and stories that he creates in those pages become the inspiration and source material for his imagery. Each of the paintings -except for the 2-part “Gentleman Cthulhu” set- had their full back-stories posted below them, a great touch which added tremendously to the overall exhibit.
View the full set of images from “The Creature Show” exhibit and read their corresponding images below.
EXHIBIT RUNS UNTIL MAY 07, 2011
ROQ LA RUE
2312 2nd Ave.
Seattle, Wa 98121
(206) – 374 – 8977
HOURS: 1pm-6pm Wed. – Sat.
(Closed Sun. – Tues)
For purchasing information, you can email the gallery through HERE.
[CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE]
“Sir Frederic Burke and His Leviathan”
Acrylic on board
Antique frame convex glass
“Sir Frederic Burke imagined himself to be some kind of adventurer. He used his family’s vast fortune to investigate mysterious stories about mythical creatures. He had heard a tale about a great aquatic beast that was supposedly sighted in the North Sea. He chartered a large sailing vessel equipped with what he thought could hold such a “monstrous” animal. After months searching for this elusive creature, he hears word that the beast’s lair has been discovered in a cove. When he arrived at the location he discovered a large egg just beginning to hatch. The emerging creature reminded him of his old dog, who had recently passed away. He swore the crew to secrecy and took the newly hatched “monsterling” to his estate in Devon. Before long, the aptly named Leviathan began to grow to enormous size. After a few weeks, it was as large as a steam ship. It had a bad habit of chasing after carriages and would capture them and bring them to the property as offerings like a cat bringing a dead mouse or bird to your doorstep. As the behemoth grew to full size, it would bring back large cargo ships and trains as gifts. Luckily Sir Frederic had a lot of property.“
“North Atlantic Dagon Worshipper”
Acrylic & Graphite on paper
10” x 14”
“The North Atlantic Dagon worshippers are linked to the evolution of the angler fish and other similar deep sea creatures. They possess a peculiar bio-luminescence that appears more like a soft glow, even in the darkest regions. They are quite dangerous with their many stinging tendrils and often use the “lures” on their heads to draw people in. There is a hypnotic effect that emanates from them and causes zombie-like behavior. When they come ashore in more populated areas, large masses of people fall under their spell and follow them. Prolonged exposure to them causes fish-like mutation and loss of speech. Those who have spent more than a few days in close proximity speak in shrill-like vibrato and shake violently. The effect takes months to wear off after they have gone back into the sea.”
“South Pacific Dagon Worshipper”
Acrylic & Graphite on paper
10’ x 14”
“Unlike their bio-luminescent cousins from the north, these worshippers have their own sort of cult-like status that is not too far from their fanatical allegiance to the “ancient one”. They have the ability to generate electricity when they move their fins. There is a constant pulse of electrical current that flows from them as they walk. Some humans become aroused in their presence and thus a cult of their own worshippers has developed.
It is said that one’s “virility” is enhanced by their presence. In certain villages in the Fiji Islands secret societies practice sacrificial rites to honor them.“
“The Wallace family has always had a Yeti in their home for as long as anyone can remember. No one knows for certain how long these docile hairy beasts can live. The current family Yeti is believed to be over 300 years old. It has become a tradition for each generation to have their portrait painted with the Yeti.“
“The one and only “pugga-woozel” gets its name from the close resemblance it has to pug dogs. It was discovered by a young boy who was looking for his lost kite on the outskirts of the Pine Barrens in New Jersey in 1895. There had been reports of an unusual animal that was described as being “marsupial or koala-like” and sightings always involved stolen lunches or sandwiches. The boy, who found it, claimed it was leaping from tree to tree with a loaf of bread in its mouth. The young man was mesmerized by the strange dance that the “pugga-woozel” performed when it was near food. Entranced by the animal’s graceful movements, he lured it into his picnic basket with a few bits of roast beef and took it home. After it ate all the food in his house it escaped back into the wild.
Every so often, the boy would see it in the woods, but he never took that glutton home again.“
“Charles was a gardener. He was always digging and planting in his yard in North East England. The smell of the Earth was like fine wine to a sommelier. One day, while readying the soil for a new crop of vegetables a strange thing happened. When he thrust the spade into the ground it let out a yelp. He looked down and saw a tuft of hair. He started to use his hands to remove more dirt and before long he revealed a gigantic hairy head that smiled at him. In between smiles, it would utter, “I am Henry”. That is all it would say as Charles continued to unearth this strange being from his garden. After many hours, Charles managed to dig up the “Henry”, who was taller than the house. A few months later, another “Henry” was discovered in the South West, in Devon. He was not quite as tall as the northern “Henry”. He grumbled and grimaced, frightening small children and farm animals. They were forced to re-bury him.
The Northern “Henry” was much more affable and started to learn more words. He admired Charles’ mustache. It did not go unnoticed. He would “mustache” and point at Charles’ whiskers. He did this several times a week for the next few months. One day, Charles hired a barber and bought a barrel of mustache wax. The Northern Henry was delighted; for he was now able to live out his days working the garden with a well groomed mustache.“
“Thomas asked his parents permission to purchase a squid from one of his friends. His parents thought he was being silly and told him if he didn’t mind looking after such a thing, it was fine by them. When he brought it home, both his parents fainted. It was an enormous beast. Apparently, it had outgrown its enclosure.“
“This rare species of plankton has a peculiar ability to cause anxiety and make people turn on each other. They were dubbed the “Cranky Plankton” because of the irritable chemical that they produce. It quickly evaporates and once airborne, it only takes a few moments for the chemical to take effect. Often, they are captured and placed in glass jars and cups as pranks to incite all manner of calamity.“
“When trolls become unruly and destroy too much property or even harm people, they are beheaded. When they lose their heads they do not die. The heads live on and people often collect them as pets.“