It’s easy to like the work of painter, Casey Weldon, but depending on who you are, how you interpret the meaning of that statement, and the way that phrasing comes across, the idea of easily likable art could either read as incredibly positive or something to stay, even run, away from. Strawberry ice-cream is easy to like, too, but it isn’t all that interesting and you won’t catch me devoting too much time and energy to writing about it [other than that brief comparison, of course]. As far as Casey‘s work is concerned, we’ve seen it showcased in more than a few pop-culture themed shows, where the topics have rarely, if ever, really provoked or encouraged anything overly weighty from contributing artists and, for better or worse, the intention isn’t really to peel someone’s skull back and melt their brains. That being said, whenever he’s been featured in those shows, his work has always been both easily identifiable and memorable — in other words, it has stood out from the herd. He’s been able to present his own signature aesthetic, right out of the gate, which, unfortunately, is much rarer than one might expect in this day and age. Now, with his latest solo show, Tropefiend, opening tonight at Spoke Art gallery in San Francisco, Weldon demonstrates how he’s continuing to carve out that identity with some impressive results.
I believe that the first time that we posted anything regarding Weldon it was for the very first real official show that Spoke Art put on, when they debuted their hugely successful annual group exhibit, Bad Dads, which pays tribute to the work of filmmaker, Wes Anderson. Since then, the artist has appeared in numerous shows, both for that gallery as well as many others. He has also exhibited solo through Spoke twice before. It’s been something to watch both the gallery and the artist grow side by side over the last 5 years, and the refreshing thing about Weldon is that, each time he comes through with a new selection of work, his progression is noticeable. The reason that this is so noteworthy is because he was already creating standout pieces from the first time that we ever saw anything from him, but just going by the work that he’s been able to churn out over time, it’s clear that he’s continuing to push himself. Many artists fall heavily under the radar, but Casey seems to have done pretty well for himself, at least by appearance — he gets coverage. Like I said, his work is easy to like, perhaps even “accessible,” to a certain extent, but for many that could be a curse killing any motivation for progression — there’s more potential to fuck up and lose an audience by evolving than remaining still — but, if I felt like that Weldon was one to do that, then I doubt that I’d be posting anything at all.
His paintings — in no small part due to his trademark color palette of soft pastels — present an almost storybook-like quality, but always one that feels just prior to my own time, like old Mother Goose illustrations, or, perhaps, just a fraction misaligned with our own dimension. Sometimes, the oddities that he inserts into the work have felt more like something that has slipped into view, almost as if the viewer is the only one picking up on the fact that these, otherwise innocent, crisply presented, borderline “polite” settings have something subtly off about them, not unlike a porcelain-doll-filled room at an estate sale. As time has progressed and the artist has evolved, his color palette feels as if it has gotten just slightly darker, harnessing that beautifully doomy essence that exists around dusk where the dying sun oozes pink yolk and cools like magma, back-lighting the swollen gray skyline. It’s a viewmaster reel stuck between frames transitioning from the fracturing malt shop utopia of Pleasantville to Parents, the 1989 black comedy/horror about mid-century suburbanite cannibals. He’s dipped through phases, painting stoic women donning majestic tribal head-dresses comprised of an arranged mixture of trees, mountains, and large insects, or, in one particular case, the pelts of mutant cats. And these 4-eyed glitch-headed felines, which are designed to look as if a photoshop stamp tool had been utilized to copy, shift, and double another pair of identical peepers right above the old ones, are a perfect analogy for something that feels both inviting and comfortable, yet unmistakably not on-the-level. I’m sure that there’s a beautiful nostalgia for some in visiting their late grandmother’s room and looking through her old photographs and costume jewelry, but once you’re sipping absinthe in her old moth-ball perfumed nightgown, then shit has probably drifted quite a bit away from the shore, at that point. Remember, nostalgia may be comfortable, but nostalgia is still a ghost.
Casey Weldon has crafted a nice little world for himself lit by magenta and turquoise gels and inhabited by house pets filtered through a DMT smoke lens. People seem to like that world. Spoke Art definitely wants to show his work and give him solo shows. The work will sell. If Weldon just kept painting the same four-eyed cats forever, the work would continue to sell. And when I say that, I mean that he could literally paint the same image of the same figure from the same perspective for years, only push prints, and it would never stop selling, nor would his popularity decline — if you haven’t been paying attention, it’s a choice that plenty of “artists” actually make, and, as far as consumers are concerned, there are a shitload of people who are still rocking the exact same overpriced standard Northface Denali fleece, Coach bags, and 7 For All Mankind jeans, because of their attraction to familiarity and brand recognition. A few cats do appear in one particular piece in Casey Weldon‘s new collection, as do a number of female subjects, but what will make Tropefiend a success, and continue to make the artist behind it a success into the future — artistically, if nothing esle — is that he still clearly possess a very visible passion for what he’s doing and is continuing to display more of a devotion to the creation process than the production process (there’s a big difference). Not to knock his earlier work in the slightest, but if you jump back to what he was painting 5 years ago and follow it up through his progression to what he’s doing now, the evolution of his technique cannot be ignored. Even just jump back to Meow Brow, his 2nd solo show with Spoke from 2013 that was 100% feline-based, and you’ll find someone who is down-tuning his palette, experimenting with several perspectives, and even trying out a haunting Village Of The Damned affect with some of the cats’ eyes. Tropefiend marks further steps forward that have been made in the artist’s craft; if the past felt as if we were still able to peer into Weldon‘s surrealist world with a viewing window and some distance between us, his new pieces possess a level of realism that offers another dimension to them. It’s still the same guy and he hasn’t pulled a complete 180 with what he’s producing, but it feels bolder, slightly more aggressive, and quite a bit more refined. When a figure’s dressed in diffused red light, I now wonder what menacing, glowing orb outside of the frame might be producing it. The questioning, photo-realistic glistening eyes of the subject are presented in a way that gives her a new level of authenticity and emotion to be drawn in by, and then, almost as a reaction, another piece presents a woman with her sockets holed out, so that Weldon could fill the ocular cavities with spurting fireworks, exchanging her vision — and soul — for a supernatural intensity that leaves her enslaved by their own power.
People love knowing what they’re gonna get and Weldon could have patted himself on the back a long time ago and been done with it. Maybe he has patted himself on the back for any success that he’s achieved — good for him, if he has — but I like the idea that this guy is still sitting in a room somewhere and trying to figure out how he can get better, how he can manage to pull his subjects out of the frame a little more effectively, how his lighting can be more realistic, injecting it all with a radioactive life. He’s experimenting with contrast and illumination. He’s working on the fundamentals and finding ways to enhance the realism of his subjects, which then makes the surrealist elements slightly more ominous and tangible. Is he doing something shockingly different than he has in the past? Probably not; it’s still clearly Casey Weldon. Is what he’s doing in this show “better” than what he did with last show? It doesn’t matter — is Revolver better or worse than Rubber Soul, or is it subjective? Sometimes, the visual art world can be about everything except the art. It’s Hollywood bullshit and hype, and Hollywood has given us endless examples of people who, after tasting a little praise and attention, have opted to focus on sustaining and chasing that, rather than working on the progression of their craft. What I appreciate is seeing someone absorbing their success, harnessing that confidence, and directing it into motivation for taking more chances, pushing themselves, and moving forward, rather than being confident in standing still, smiling for cameras, shaking hands, and stalling out in nicer and nicer sportcoats.
People like Casey Weldon‘s work and I think they’ll like Tropefiend, but people are idiots, galleries want to have art that they consider “sellable,” but none of it should be the barometer for whether or not what you do has substance or worth; patrons would be happy to see the exact same images in new frames, and I’m happy to see that’s not what he’s offering with this show. Likewise, I don’t feel that it’s a brand new endpoint for Weldon either, yet promise of someone on their way toward something else, and hopefully the next show will demonstrate the same. A lot of people want to see a “master” apply their flawless technique, but that’s someone who has stopped progressing and I’m more interested in the process and those who are continuing to explore what that means. Casey Weldon could still be holding on to the edge of the pool, and he very well may relax there someday, but it’s a relief to see artists that want to try and swim their way out into different unfamiliar territory, just so that they can find their way back. I’m sure he wants to be liked — when you’re exposing your work publicly, there’s, generally, a hope that people don’t shit on it — but if there’s one thing that I can get behind, as far as what I’ve witnessed with Tropefriend, so far, and Weldon, himself, are concerned, it’s the belief that experimenting and getting better at his livelihood/passion and earning whatever praise he achieves is the priority. The real work is done alone with some acrylics and a brush, but if you’re in the area and position to do so tonight, try and make your way down to the Spoke Art gallery in San Francisco to see the results.
Check out a selection of preview images below the following event details…
TROPEFIEND – solo exhibit by Casey Weldon
Saturday, June 6th, 2015
6pm-10pm (both nights)
Spoke Art Gallery
816 Sutter Street
San Francisco, California 94109
Opening is ALL AGES w/NO COVER
Complimentary refreshments served
Artist will be in attendance
Show on view until June 27th
Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/397157430468073/