Thursday, September 18, 2014

DEATH TO BUNNY - The lowbrow rut

"All that talent, and not one Goddamn idea!" ~ Hudson Marquez
That's what Hudson told me a couple of years ago, when I was complaining about the rut that lowbrow art was in. Not much has improved since then. There was, and remains, all this promise in the rise of lowbrow art, but it's just being squandered on big eyed girls and fucking bunnies. I keep expecting some magnificent arc of influence to take place. The kind of thread that runs from Bukowski to Trainspotting, or Zap Comix to Cerebus, The Ronettes to the Ramones. But all I see is bunnies and big eyes. I'm exhausted by it. At this point, I don't even want to debate people anymore about the merits of Margaret Keane. If you're convinced that those dull, muddy mass produced Woolworth prints of scruffy, sad kids, that hung over every green sofa in the sixties, was something bold and visionary...well, I don't have the breath anymore. Tim Burton bio pic? Ugh! I can't bash my head against that particular brick wall any longer. Fine, we got Mark Ryden out of the deal. But, there's the rub, right? That is a Pandora's Box if there ever was one.

Ryden is indeed a master painter, and he did take "the Keane thing" to new and interesting heights. But is the art detritus that has been puked up in his wake really worth it? It seems like every batch of art school graduates, having honed their skills to a dull nub, seems only interested in stroking Ryden's fur. Bunnies. Everywhere I go, bunnies.

Now, if an artist taps into an immediately recognizable style, and that "style" can be manipulated into financial security, can I really be mad at him/her? Sure, I can. But I'm not mad, I'm just bored. I've talked (briefly) to Max Neutra. Super nice guy. Strong work ethic. Bunnies are his bread and butter.

I don't know Luke Chueh personally. He's probably a fine human being, and I'm sure he's very happy to be making a living doing what he's doing, and I'm sure he works hard at it. Even if you don't know the name, you know his work, The suicidal bear...and the bunny.

I know, I know, rabbit art ain't nothing new. There's a long history of bunny paintings. My personal favorites were always the dead ones.

So, back around 1998, I sought an audience with Billy Shire, whose legendary La Luz de Jesus Gallery I was foaming at the mouth to show in. I brought Billy crap. It horrifies me to this day, that I actually showed him what I did. Of course, Billy passed on me. Hoping, with each passing year, that I was improving, I kept submitting to La Luz. Year after year, rejected. Matt Kennedy was eventually tapped as gallery director, and I noticed the big eyes and the bunnies were replicating. Spreading like a contagion. There was the occasional great show, but mostly the bunnies were taking over. To be fair to Matt Kennedy, it's my understanding that if he could do what he really wanted to, the focus would be on photography. But bunnies (and big eyes) are good business. Anyway, I stopped submitting to La Luz a few years ago. I didn't think the work I was doing at this point belonged there, if it ever did. Then, lo and behold, I was asked to be in the Coaster Show. My chance to show at La Luz at long last! So, what do I do? Yep...bunnies! I appropriated a dead hare from the Dutch painter Jan Weenix (see top photo) into a series of cliches running from Polka Dot Bunny to Blood Splatter Bunny. I'm kind of a smart ass that way.

Bunny Cliche #1-4

I expected those coasters to be my last word on the subject. I thought that would get it out of my system. Then Daniel Rolnik told me he was opening a gallery, and he wanted me to do something for the first show, a group show called Smile Isle. I have much love for Daniel, and I wanted to do something special for this show. The first time he visited my studio, he pointed to a Woody Guthrie portrait I had done (inspired by a Billy Bragg interview) and said, "That's my favorite!"

Revolution Rock
So, I decided to paint a guitar to echo that, and do one last bunny revolt. I started a collage on the face of the guitar that began to echo some of those Picasso/Braque collaborations. I'm seriously going to act as if that was intentional.

The back of the guitar ended up being a group show itself, with original art  by Nicole Bruckman, Mary Deliossinna, Om Bleicher, Gay Summer Rick, Daniel Rolnik, and printed material from Jennifer Korsen, Little Friends Of Printmaking and Jason Ostro.

I even paid homage to Ray Johnson with some bunny guitar picks.

Making this piece was cathartic. Go ahead, paint your bunnies. Some of my favorite artists paint bunnies: Nicole Bruckman, Jessicka Addams, on and on. Speaking of Nicole, she is one of the artists in Smile Isle too! Here's her piece:

Just One of the Herd by Nicole Bruckman

Awwww! You win! I'll shut up about it now.

Smile Isle opens tonight!
Daniel Rolnik Gallery
1431 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401
reception from 6pm to 11pm

The Song Remains The Same