An art show curated by Jesse Pearson
Hi. I recently curated an art show called Proximity Alert. It was up for a couple months at Le Maximum Gallery in Venice Beach, California. Now that it’s history, I thought I’d give you a virtual walkthrough. Here are some installation shots to start. I’ll then take you through the show in the order it was hung, and I’ll share the statement I wrote to go with it too.
All the following photos were taken by Brica Wilson. Many thanks to Liam Considine and Kris Yenbamroong at Le Maximum. Also this newsletter installment is a little long so I suggest clicking through to the web version since the email might cut off early, especially if you use gmail.
Here’s what the show looked like…
The show’s origins go back a few years, to when I decided I wanted to put together an exhibition of figurative art. I let that idea sit on the back burner while I kept a running list of artists that could take part in it. At the same time, I was looking for a secondary reason for the show to exist—a unifying element beyond just “figurative.” It took some time, but eventually it came to me… in the form of a pandemic and its attendant social distancing and isolation. What becomes of the figure in art during a time when the figure in real life is so loaded with new meaning and dangerous implications? Our bodies, our figures, were suddenly sites of fear and uncertainty while the figures of others became threats.
Here is the curatorial statement that went along with it:
Curated by Jesse Pearson
November 13th, 2021 - January 9th, 2022
It’s been said that everyone we meet in our dreams is ourselves in a different mask.1 I think it’s true, and I also believe that every figure an artist makes functions in the same way. They are the artist’s avatars in the world of symbols. Inside art, which so often has the logic of a dream, the artist deploys their self in new guises. Sometimes it’s explicit, as in a self-portrait. Sometimes, when it’s a portrait of another person, it’s more complex; it’s a form of possession. When the work ventures into allegory or abstraction, the self becomes more obscured. But it’s still there, peeking out at us, waiting and wanting to be seen.
The works in this show comprise a crowd. Each piece, each one figurative in its own way and with its own logic, represents a surrogate for the artist who made it. In this way the gallery is filled with people. They array themselves cheek-by-jowl. In placing all these creatures in the enclosed space of the gallery, we see one of the only surely safe ways for a mass of bodies to gather together today—not as flesh, but instead as representations of flesh.
For almost two years now, we’ve been compelled to think a lot about our bodies (a.k.a. figures) because there is an invisible entity out there that wants to destroy them. It focused the body as a center of uncertainty, and it made me think about the many ways artists might interact with figuration. And though not all of the work in the show was made in response to the pandemic, it did loom as an organizing principle. Nor is all the work in the show strictly figurative; some of it bends if not breaks the definition. And not all the figures are human. But in each piece, we see each artist grappling in one way or another with the mixed blessing of being embodied. There’s anxiety here but also joy; trauma but also comedy. Sound the proximity alert.
Now let’s take a walk through the show.
The lipstick kisses you see all over the gallery walls are Dan Colen’s piece. He had a custom color called Rock Bottom made, then encouraged gallerygoers to pull their masks down long enough to apply the lipstick and kiss the wall anywhere they chose to. It was incredible how transgressive this simple act felt in the age of masking, and it gave the people who did it a weird feeling of solidarity with each other.
This drawing by Jane Corrigan opened the show. I like the implication of allegory in her work. Three girls here have blindfolded a boy. What are they up to with him? And the frog, what is he telling us? (I don’t want answers, by the way. I like to leave it open to wonder.)
Hung next to it was the same piece but in color. This adds a new illustrative dimension to the work, and it also quite simply highlights Jane’s technical proficiency, which blows me away. Seek out her paintings if you don’t already know them.
This big beauty by Friends With You came next. It’s a strong representation of the direction their work has taken in recent years. They’ve been deploying a cast of pop cultural figures—mostly from children’s entertainment—in deceptively unsettling tableau. Pinocchio is nude and neutered; Winnie the Pooh has been torturously extended to a great height as if he’s been stretched on the rack. Perhaps Sam and Tury (the two men who comprise Friends With You) don’t intend for readings such as mine to be possible. But that’s the great thing about being in the audience for art: Its meaning, for each of us, is ours alone.
This is the first of two drawings by Ed Templeton in the show. Ed is in many ways an artist of suburbia. He lives there and he’s preoccupied with it. But, being a former pro skateboarder and a provocateur, he’s not a typical suburbanite. So his take on it all is both inside and outside, which is probably the ideal situation for any observer.
And here’s the second of Ed’s drawings. Suburban teenage love. I’m enamored with the sly details in this work. The faded swastika on the punk’s back; the cat underneath the bed. It tells a story more effectively than much short fiction does lately.
Sam McPheeters’s drawing cracks me up but also makes me uncomfortable. A barely-embodied homunculus wielding a blade and telling us what he wants: “BLOOD.” There’s something inspiring and empowering about a brute advocating for himself this way. I was overjoyed when this work sold to a brilliant fellow artist whom I will not name.
A complicated scene by Mavado Charon, a French artist who bares the deeper and darker sides of fantasy in his graphic, lovingly rendered drawings. This is a relatively small piece and it’s fun to watch someone approach it. To admire the detail, one must get close. And once one is close, one is inside the world of Mavado. Each detail lives and breathes; each separate figure undergoes its own pleasure and pain. Some viewers were seen to recoil; others were seen to lean in.
A big, all-over riot by Johnny Ryan. This one is well-worth clicking on so you can zoom in and appreciate the full gamut of gore and gaiety that’s going on in it. This was a star of the show, magnetically pulling viewers in and compelling them to find their favorite corner of the piece. What most pleases me about it all is the gleefulness of it. It’s the fiery, violent end of the world and so many of the characters look overjoyed about that. Maybe there’s nothing left but to let it burn.
Chris (Simpsons artist)’s take on the classical figure and his looseness with the facts of art history make me wonder how much of a sense of humor Alexandros of Antioch might have had. The great reveal here is what our Venus was doing with at least one of her missing arms. She was telling us, in a Fonzie-like gesture, that everything is going to be a-ok. Or, maybe, she was trying to hitch a ride to the Louvre.
I like the saucy smugness of this little guy, with his arms akimbo and his eyes in mid-roll. Is he the masterpiece or is the work the masterpiece?
It’s hard to pull off art that approximates or even that is inspired by the psychedelic experience. But Joe Roberts, the artist who also works under the name LSD Worldpeace, nails it again and again. Here we see the gaunt, wide-eyed and huge-pupiled seeker on probably hour ten of a harrowing, epiphanic ride. Amidst the grids that underlie all creation, he has found something. A revelation has been stumbled upon, and he points to it, wanting to share it with us. But words fail lysergic inspiration, and we know the most he can really do is expose his attitude of glassy, exhausted awe.
I still stand by my suggestion of a title for this piece: Crucidicks. I love the rapturous joy on the subject’s face; even with nails through her hands and feet, she is feeling very good. This is religious ecstasy on one hand, but could it also be talking with us about the societal slavery of womankind at the whim of the phallus-havers? It’s likely that both apply.
Jia Sung’s piece captures a creature in mid-transformation between fox and woman. It’s called Possession and it makes me wonder: Which entity is the possessor and which is the possessed? When I asked her about the piece, Jia spoke of possession here as being an invasion but also a sort of liberating force which gives us permission to break societal norms. I like that reading.
Lesley’s work, which incorporates elements of collage and drawing, feels like it comes from a strange alternate 1970s, as if each piece is the cover of a racy bestselling novel. This one feels particularly Judy Blume-y to me.
I like the idea of taking a page from a comic, divorcing it from the narrative it’s been part of, and asking it to stand alone as a work of art. These louche aristocrats function that way for me. The questions I have: What is their relationship to each other? Where have they been tonight? I also hope that you got to see this one in person because Sammy’s drawing is simply masterful and to see it in its purest form is a thrill. God bless the true drawers.
This kindly Cerberus was made by Kevin Long. It’s of his fellow pro skater Kader Sylla who, by all accounts, is an infectiously joyous presence. Each face looks as if it’s in the middle of a different part of a conversation. It’s like you can read it right-to-left, like a flipbook, to capture a moment of talk. Try letting your eyes glide over it that way.
Zaria’s work reminds me of early 1990s rave graphics, like a lost Deee-Lite single cover. I like the multi-halos emanating from their heads and the vines and flowers encircling them. And I love the wings. This piece is so circularly energized that it can be hung in any orientation and still “work.” It would have been cool to hang it so that it slowly spun around.
Lots of power here, especially in her inscrutable gaze. It’s possible to read everything from amusement to defiance to resignation in it…
… and then that is followed by this, in which the situation becomes more complicated and she is bound by her own voluminous hair. We’ve all heard that masculinity is a prison, but isn’t it possible that femininity is as well?
The tuffest piece in the show, hands-down. I don’t even want to confront it with words. I would have bought it if someone else hadn’t.
Duncan’s work is always cinematic in that it’s inspired by cinema but also in that each work feels like it could be a still from a cult-favorite melodrama or noir. I have to wonder who or what she’s looking at. Has someone recently left or is about to enter the other side of the bed? And the lamp, it feels like it has a kind of totemic female power to it, like it’s watching over her as well as mirroring her nudity.
This is social distancing. In Michael Decker’s painstakingly detailed drawing, each tiny figure is paced out almost equidistant from the next. Remember the early days of the pandemic, when “six feet apart” was a sort of mantric invocation? This reminds me of that. The nudity and the edenic location lead me to thoughts of a Biblical garden, something either thousands of years ago or thousands of years from now. Either way, it ain’t today.
Sunny is primarily a tattooist, and one can see the influence of flash art here—less in what the individual elements are, but more in the way they are arrayed across the piece. Which one would you choose?
Or has it been said? I can’t for the life of me remember who posited this. A psychoanalyst? A philosopher? I mean, maybe it was me right here. But I really don't think so.