Review: John Krausman Lark

Man in Four Places, oil on linen, 54 x 66″

ARTSY Online Exclusive

February 9, 2021 – April 30, 2021

Untitled Space

by Jacob Hicks

John Krausman Lark’s paintings are a very intelligent, hypercritical and condensed deposition of the Americana of late capitalism. A glitching nightmare of commercialized young bodies lounge in suburban utopia. They interweave and exchange form in an ecstasy-less orgy of excess and propagandistic tropes, pornographic desires and manufactured personas.

This is a metaphysical reality where no figure is ever allowed wholeness. The viewer’s present spirit is a kind of tortured consciousness floating outside of the picture plane, forced to remain silently aware of and obedient to the directions of an internal omnipresent incubus bound within and directing the painting’s confines.

These images are psychoanalytic tombs, sarcophagi, time capsules, or eulogies to a dying society. They are forms of documentation of the mutilation the United States commits against the identities of its constituents.

Priest Triptych, far right panel, oil on canvas, 12 x 33″

As children we must separate our true persona, hold that delicate thing up to a mirror of a simulation of a “better” culturally approved identity. Little boys are given white soldiers, monster trucks, tepidities of violence. Little girls are presented busty plastic, make-up-stained, emaciated dolls and rubber babies to practice feeding. No line shall be crossed. Even the aware are staggeringly weak against the collective delusion, a fortified drone dream doppelgänger casting a spell across the world. A phantasmagoria, this unattainable, corrosive white male American vision of post-war picket fenced lawns, ice cubes in summer, swimming pools flanked by voluptuous pink wives and mistresses, baseline salaries and cigars with men in the garage after church, fireworks on the fourth and sports. Endless ignorant self-sacrifices through Dionysian drug-fueled revelries.

Officer, oil on canvas, 40 x 30″

The society celebrates those who mutate their appearance and behavior best. It lauds those who reassemble personhoods into passing reflections of its zombie doppelgänger. Those who are too far removed from the dream are banished, thrown down the rungs of the ladder of social stratification and denied privileges bequeathed all whose selves conform, in theory, at least. In practice, this plastic surgery of the soul is not so rewarding if, say, you are not born into a well-off family, if all the self-disfigurements can’t change your skin color.

The grotesque doppelganger is sculpted from the clay of religious indoctrination, of visual and textual media heavy in propaganda so superfluous as to be commonplace invisible. The sculptor is a sniveling patriarch irreverent to and scornful of absolutely everything, including himself, but most especially an evolving non-white, non-male demographic. Imagine Mitch McConnell’s little veined monster hands in a sandbox, something like that.

Horror, oil on linen, 54 x 50″

What has formed in the dying breath of an American anthropophagi, whose appetite cannot be satiated, is a death cult. Watch it charge the capital and shoot up schools. Watch it rape and pillage and destroy in the name of liberty, commit suicide by filling the skies with the exhaust of its fossil-fuels and the methane of its animal holocaust farms. Watch it round up children along its border, execute innocent black bodies as sport, and finally dance in the plague of a half million dead and growing.

As Americans we are one of two things, a consciousness already broken and shaped or a consciousness floating outside of the confines, aware of them. We are either the oblivious brainwashed or the horrified observers and unwitting participants in the twisted nightmare-scape, close to powerless to halt the gears of a centuries old, violent machine.

Lark’s paintings are a vibrant mirror to our deeply unhealthy cultural consciousness. If we are lucky and observant, our eyes open to the illusionistic perversity of a cultural simulacra directing us, we can use our talents and intelligence to analyze, create, educate, and unbuild this living dystopia, planting seeds of opposition that we water and develop in young minds and future generations.

Western, oil on canvas, 18 x 24″
Yana # 2, oil on canvas, 12 x 16″

Review: the likes of others by Jeremy Olson

Unit London, January 6-February 13, 2021

(Images courtesy of the gallery)

by Jacob Hicks

Squaring the Circle, oil on canvas, 61 x 51 cm

The conception of science fiction in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus illuminates the horror of desiring immortality, which is never-the-less sought continuously, from our earliest surviving literature-The Epic of Gilgamesh, (and surely before) to now. After the death of his companion Enkidu, a wild man built by the god’s, Gilgamesh invariably learns that “life, which you look for, you will never find. For when the gods created man, they let death be his share, and life withheld in their own hands.”

Transhumanism, born of and fodder for so many works of science fiction, exudes this same impulse, the longing for physical immortality and the innate terror of death. Could we, as humans, manipulate the world according to our own irrational precepts, our fear of death and our egocentricity, to stave off the loss of self, using technology to metamorphosize into something both us and other?

As I speak, we are doing it. We have always been doing it, since the first stone thrown, stick sharpened, pair of glasses worn. Consider the commonplace practice of replacing bones with titanium simulations. Consider transporting our consciousness inside the rapidly evolving realm of virtual reality. Is our quest against expiration innate and natural or unholy like the Frankenstein’s corpse amalgam? Does it dehumanize and isolate us like the characters in Jeremy Olson’s exhibition, or is it what makes us human?

I bring up these stories, concepts and questions because I see them proposed at a slant, that is to say poetically, in the transformed tomes of humanness that are the characters in Olson’s work. Isolated science fictions, the inanimate animated, and cartoon revelries-both charming and unnerving-inhabit stylish interiors nested in a further distanced dystopian vista parallel to the one we all find ourselves, in the real world, in. Chopped down forests and dilapidated alleyways sit as tertiary views beyond the containment architectures of Olson’s caricatures. They are pacing, gazing or bored in repose in safe recessed equilibriums.

housesitter, oil on panel, 61 x 51cm

In housesitter, an asymmetrical pipe with asymmetrical breasts and piercing asymmetrical blue eyes- lounging on a yellow and orange retro designer couch-gazes with one eye to a flame burning from a glass oil lamp, and with the other eye at itself in a mirror. Both eyes are turned away from a chemical green sky and looming mountain-scape just outside a round window. The sitter is divorced from what exists outside of its apartment biosphere. It itself is a leaky pipe, some putrid pollution is pooling on a wooden floor.

boundaries of sentiment, oil on canvas, 91 x 76 cm

In boundaries of sentiment, two wolf octopodes in retro science fiction containment ships shyly hold intestine-like tube hands and watch a sunset under a minimalist concrete balcony (which reminds me of the 80’s downtown Dallas brutalist architecture used as settings in the movie Robocop).

flesh horizon, oil on panel, 51 x 41 cm

In flesh horizon, a menacing green-eyed head of cauliflower grimaces before a deforested landscape. It doesn’t look happy to be exposed to the dystopian elements that its brethren creatures of neighboring paintings are all mostly sheltered from. Hewn tree stumps are tangled below a red horizon.

The characters Olson paints are not cartoons or fantasies, they are surreal amalgams of captive and distorted humans, held hostage by the broader systems of hierarchy and control they unconsciously create and enforce. They recall seminal surrealists like Max Ernst, particularly his image The Elephant Celebes, where machine parts and the debris of industrialization animate into beastly figures before a polluted sky.

These pieces also make me think about the similarities of contemporary privileged upper-middle-class Americans and animals in zoo exhibits as defined in John Berger’s grouping of essays called Why Look at Animals.

The animal and the upper-middle-class American are both privileged in being constantly afforded the necessities of existence-shelter, food, clean water, etc. but both are also trapped in an external system out of their control. Both have the immediate appearance of safety and advantage, a controlled aesthetic made to look like nature for the animal or pleasure as material wealth for the person. Both have the constant and pressing existential threat of instability. For the animal it is the instinctual and omnipresent fear of the intruder, for the person it is the potential to lose the stability of income, safety, or health (which is more and more constantly threatened as our social order degenerates under the weight of a waning democracy and the purposefully uneducated masses). The threat of exposure to the unregulated realities of a chaotic truth outside the illusion of stasis brings both a satiating comfort and an irrefutable frustration at being trapped. I like to think the animal’s dream becomes the desecration of its captor, the American’s anger at captivity is satiated through substance and consumerism, both are their own kind of violence. It is important to understand that the threat of upset to equilibrium is key to the survival of the system itself, it creates commerce for the human who needs to constantly consume goods and services to placate their unconscious discomfort in captivity and it brings the potential of exciting danger for the zoo visitor.

Installation view

John Berger compared Francis Bacon’s room-bound ghost-faced men to the animal human hybrids of Walt Disney. Think of Mickey Mouse or Goofy, both have clothed human bodies and the head of animals. The thing that is most funny about a man with the head of a dog is his powerlessness, his utterly apparent placeless-ness, tragedy and humor being the same.

Do you remember the cartoons where Goofy is going about the daily business of a 1950’s middle-class American? For example, he is driving to work at rush hour with a male narrator explaining this everyday ritual like an ethnographer. Berger says the disembodied ghosts of Bacon’s compositions illicit the same muse as Disney’s composite characters, the muse of the imprisoned, the caged, the out of place. I see Olson as a direct continuation of this strange lineage, one further down the line that is closer to an imminent unraveling of humanness in the age of the Anthropocene.

As the caged animal we have two options. We can sit in our temporary cells of comfort and frustration and ignore the unraveling, staring at our social media mediated reflection and pretending that this dead end can lead us to immortality rather than to a digital Necropolis.

Our other option is more challenging, because it requires us to sacrifice the illusion of comfort. It is to escape our individual containers by pushing against the tide of dystopian truths with community, humanism, art, education and the sciences, embracing and healing alongside cultures we have so long desecrated, remembering our immortality rests not in sewing new versions of dead pasts together and willing them back to electric life to repeat a tired cyclical history like Frankenstein’s monster, but from planting the memory of our actions while living in the soil of the reality we share.

panic on holiday, oil on canvas, 76 x 61 cm

Review: Willehad Eilers, LA BLAGUE

Galerie Droste, 5 Dec – 19 Dec 2020

DAS SCHWEIN, oil on canvas, 145 x 190 cm

Willehad Eilers or Wayne Horse, the German painter, asks us to participate in la blague-the joke-that is excoriated from asking “what remains when food and other essential goods are always available? When war is only known from the news and you never have to fear for your life? When money and infrastructure are always available?” 

“What remains is your own self-optimization and self-realization. However, the range of what is ‘offered’ as success, happiness or a fulfilled life is relatively small. Thus, not only a general alarming shift of self-related problems can be observed, but also a repetitive and unrealistic representation of life as a single high, as a single party” (text excerpt via Galerie Droste).

Eilers paints this electrifyingly gruesome perpetual party. The work elicits tarts or war head candies, undulating between opulence and disgust, sour and sweet. They are monumentally-scaled, in the vein of the great history paintings. They are surreal conflagrations parallel to German expressionism and its counter Neue Sachlichkeit forbearers who explored their era’s identical fever dreams of deadening excess, the roaring 20’s of the Weimar Republic. It is somehow difficult for us to learn human time is a record on perpetual loop. 

Dreh Dich Nicht Um, oil on canvas, 160 x 240 cm

A fertility trope of woman as rabbit travels through the paintings, represented by the Playboy bunny ears sitting on the various heads of female party-goers. Empires rise and fall like anthills, this is forgotten in the weight of human instinct and hunger. The desire to propagate one’s influence and stake in the future, to revel in the lack of need given to the few who efface it for the many, rules the stretched, broken forms composing these apocalyptic orgies. 

Baby with You, oil on canvas, 52 x 39 cm

The paintings are grandly base and biting, pulling the viewer into a common pit dug of endless surplus, into tornado earthquake zombie hoards of the “well-to-do,” so drunk and empty on account of deadening blackhole enjoyments.

Their is a dangerous pathology that afflicts the global affluent, the hegemony that will not relinquish its power and refuses empathy for those not positioned on top. The obscenely wealthy minority of white males who control the distribution of human resources do not concern themselves with a human communal fate but with their individual comfort and, secondarily, a familial fate. This group has waged a multi-generational war conquering as much of the world’s resources as possible through the widening boundaries of globalized reach, and they have won this war to the detriment of the world, humanity ecologically, and (most ironically) themselves. Morals play no part, truth and honesty play no part, just the basest instinct for more. The distinct and succinct goal of a conqueror is to claim everything for himself, though this subjugates, imprisons, and restrains any hope for change for the majority of humanity.

DER SCHERZ, oil on canvas, 145 x 190 cm

The longing for accumulation, material and control is an incessant human instinct that prevails in the uneducated, fearful and unconscious. Unlike what might be historically perceived, a lack of true education (this excludes an education purchased or performed) is a fundamental feature of the present global aristocracy. Why would an ill-informed hegemon venture to consider empathy when life-long entitlement demonstrates the only necessity is that the world consider him?

Capital He is trapped in his personally sickening fumigation, this thoughtless roach, this image constructed and desired not only poisoning those without, but those within. Notably, the tyrant is profoundly unaware of his own brittleness and stupidity, the decay of his state, exhibit A: Donald Trump, or The General in His Labyrinth, by Gabriel García Márquez, or any number of fumbling or poised dictators or corporate male managers, landlords, or business owners.

Installation View

Eilers applies an accessible and cruel visual language to illustrate all of this, it is an important critique on a sweepingly infirm world and it comes at a crucial time.

Artist portrait: Willehad Eilers/ Wayne Horse