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Jim Wright

Steel Strings and Fuzz Pedals

Jim Wright, "Fuzz Love in the Tub" (2003). © 2011 Jim Wright. Courtesy Jim Wright and RARE Gallery, New York.

Who says the New York art world isn’t controlled by a list of worn out clichés? For example, "There’s nothing more dangerous than an original idea, especially when you only have one." Or, "It’s always wise to challenge accepted wisdom." Right! Unfortunately, those people who actually step over the boundaries established by the current market/institutional complex, are usually stopped at the velvet rope by the gatekeepers of good taste.

Jim Wright’s latest batch of paintings contains elements that should offend nearly every sensibility of the prevailing trends, which paradoxically for me, are their most appealing distinction. Wright has developed an unusual technique for fabricating his paintings. Wide slabs and thin ribbons of gel-fortified acrylic paint are stenciled or cut out and applied to the panels in a collage or mosaic-like fashion. The sheets or chunks of paint are about 1/8-inch thick, and are layered and built up with smaller strokes added by squirting lines, perhaps from a syringe or a confectioner’s tube. The resulting design provides an image of pure "body" color. The hunks and strips are then sealed with a shiny varnish, giving the pieces a finish that is at once extremely plastic, and synthetically luscious, recalling either fresh Gummy Bears or rubber worms in exotic colors hawked in Bass Masters catalogues. Often the membranes of color hang over the edge of the support in an untrimmed fringe. I appreciate this treatment of paint as a material substance that refutes the aesthetic of Plexiglass slickness, which is seen in so much current painting by young artists. This recalls an interesting branch of painting ("Bad Painting") practiced in the late 1970s by such under-appreciated luminaries as Joe Zucker (who ironically is showing new work around the corner at Paul Kasmin) and Rodney Ripps.

Wright’s subject matter will also set wan urbanites’ teeth grinding, with its employment of a southern-fried trailer park Pop. This isn’t the ironic, urbane Pop of Warhol and the Deconstructivists, but an unashamed head-banging variety, which culls its themes from the WWF, cheesy Hollywood blockbusters, campground shenanigans, and Happy Meal action figures. "I Thought They Smelled Bad on the Outside" (2003) pictures Boba Fett (the bounty hunter from Star Wars) blasting away. He seems not only to have killed Bambi, laying his guts out on lily-covered wreaths, but also to have blown the top of a dinning clown’s head off. Shrapnel of white doves and little masked faces burst from the rupture. A deep cadmium yellow wall with black zigzagging stripes sets off the color scheme. "Fuzz Love in the Tub" (2003) presents a rock concert of masked cultists. The band, naked from the waist down, plays before an audience of mixed color groups, lounging and drinking in hot tubs. The backdrops forming the horizon are wedges of firework bursts, comet tails, and hearts. The foreground is a mass of multi-colored spaghetti slithering between the tubs and festooned with green bottles and daisies. Other paintings employ subjects like the guys from Ghostbusters, strange happenings in the forest, and lone shacks that exude a foreboding presence (maybe a bootlegger’s cabin, or a meth lab’s hideout). Though I could quibble with coloristic aspects of the work (the chemical greens have a particularly deadening darkness) and the pseudo-naive figuration, on the whole I’m hoping Wright carries on developing this materialistic type of painting, just to slash and burn at the borders of good taste. Y’all come back now, y’hear?


James Kalm

JAMES KALM has written extensively on the Brooklyn art scene.  In 2006 he began posting video reviews of local art exhibitions at his two YouTube channels that have generated over six million views.


The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2004

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