Someone reminded me that people generally prefer the status quo over change. I love that artists are so often committed to making new work and reinventing their practice, even if it results in the stereotype that artists are flaky or inconsistent, or it becomes harder for galleries, writers, art history students, or audiences to sum up an artist’s work. But does anyone really want artists to the same thing and never evolve? I don’t think so.
So I’m thrilled to share the work of two painters who recently surprised and delighted me with the evolution of their art.
Ryan Pierce at Lisa Dent Gallery. Pierce, a Portland, OR based print-making painter, presents acrylic-on-panel post-apocalyptic narrative scenes. Last year’s knock-out show at Lisa Dent pitted chaotic washy underpainting against tightly-rendered layers; the scenes of environmental destruction gave me the feeling that Mother Nature was a vengeful goddess who slapped humans back to their pitiful places. In this year’s show, at a smartly converted Pacific Heights apartment, Pierce returns from Portland with more outstanding small-brush painting and patterned masking. The underpainting is still loose, but not as chaotic, and it picks up decorative repeating forms. And in this show, Pierce, who wonderfully balances current politics with fantastic visions of possible futures, takes his aim at U.S. military power and imperialism. Two interactive elements supplement the show and reinforce both the pointedness and fancy of the message. First, viewers entered the gallery through a foyer lined with white flags. The flags were imprinted with a relief print bearing the text, “Army of No One — I Will Never Serve.” Viewers were encouraged to take a flag, on the condition of swearing by oath never to serve or support US imperialism. Viewers were then instructed to sign the flag—in a nice reversal of the artist’s signature, viewers’ oath-taking completed the work. Second, Pierce offered hand-drawn flash and real-live tattoo services. What does tattooing have to do with anything? In recruiting for an Army of No One, Pierce offers an alternative rite-of-passage to head-shaving and trading in contact lenses for ugly glasses: a tattoo is a mark of individuation, as opposed to conformity. The appearance of black ink both the white flags and tattooing seemed to make tattooing somehow resonant with the printed form, so that squishing ink with a needle onto living, breathing substrates became a powerful dissemination of Pierce’s ideas.
John Copeland at johncopeland.com. Williamsburg-based Copeland is the hardest-working draughtsman I know. Ten years ago, his work was dense, inky mixed media drawings and paintings, all heightened states of emotion: angst, anger, beauty, desire, under a microscope. When I visited him about three years ago, he had developed a whole new body of paintings comprised of really delicate, etching-like line work and washed-out gouache and depicting figures sinking in water. It was spare, beautiful and melancholy. So on a recent visit to his site, I was utterly surprised to see his new work, and I really love the how he alternated works from two projects in his Selected Works pages: fictional figurative narratives in acrylic-shaky-cam-on-canvas, and strange, spare graphite drawings with pop culture and porn references. His line has gotten more crazed, spontaneous, less like the growl or howl in his earlier work, and more like an all-around raspiness.