Brian Willmont / Joe Roberts
Opening Reception: Saturday, January 14th, 6:00pm – 9:00pm Exhibition Dates: January 14th – February 4th
At a time in which all painting and perhaps all art being made in any form must negotiate the myriad of ways in which it relates to and will be annexed within the digital sphere, both Brian Willmont and Joe Roberts present two very different negotiations of how analog painters respond to such a quandary. In a reverberation of Marshall Mcluhan’s prescient mantra, “medium is the message” – the textures, tools, and means of applying paint, or the decision to use paint in any manner tells us as much about a given artists take on the role of the digital within their created universe as any content might. Analog painting can act as both a rejection of the importance of the annexation of our daily lives by the virtual, while also serving as a form of continuity, mediating our collective histories with the new technologies and possibilities confronting us each day.
The work of New York based painter Brian Willmont pulls from the latter impulse, creating delicately constructed paintings that wield the immense potential of the airbrush as a primary tool within contemporary painting. What was once an instrument of craft used by photo retouchers, automotive detailers and sci-fi artists crafting images of an imagined tomorrow – the airbrush carries a renewed momentum and relevance as a tool within the realm of contemporary art. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the airbrush functions as that awkward linkage between analog and virtual spaces, existing simultaneously as one of the more recent inventions of physically applying pigment to a surface as well as a primary tool used within the culturally-ubiquitous virtual confines of Photoshop. Willmont’s work could perhaps best be summarized by that oft-thrown around adjective describing meticulous processes or a carelessly fluid handling of paint – “slick”. Willmont’s paintings almost perform “slickness” in painting as a visual pun, with faux water droplets adorning the facade of a flattened rose. Flatness and the annexation of painting space by the virtual are constant themes in the artist’s work, perhaps most clearly shown through certain elements being carefully reproduced across a composition as if duplicated over and over through Photoshop, questioning the ways in which the logic of the virtual has seeped into that of the analog. Willmont has also taken to exploring the intersections of painting and installation, constructing immersive wall works that use a plastering of digitally manipulated wall paper mimicking the pattern of an analog painting hung on said wallpaper, camouflaging the latter into the former thereby questioning the authenticity of the original while exploring the tension between analog and digital. Willmont’s subject matter capitalizes on cliche, often through floral associations that both reference the weight of the flower in western art history, while also serving as cheaply distributed symbolic markers for the unquantifiable. On the subject Willmont mentions that, “these symbols become decorative and overwhelming representations of longing. An emptiness that attracts love, sex, drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, social media, TV etc., and is ruled by emotion and dopamine hits.”
While Willmont’s work focuses on the chasm between analog and virtual spaces manifested through an aesthetic precision, the work of San Francisco based painter Joe Roberts instead employs a crudeness that rejects the importance of the digital world entirely. Roberts has become perhaps best known for his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle characters rendered with pupils that have transformed into Grateful Dead skulls and a tab of LSD perched on their tongues. Symbolically Roberts intermeshes a range of pop cultural references that predate the dominance of the internet, fusing imagery from a childhood raised on 80s and 90s cartoons with a counter-cultural message that harkens back even further to the 60s and psychedelic- champion Timothy Leary’s “turn on, tune in, drop out” ethos. Roberts’ work is predominated by sly innocence, youthful abandon and a nostalgic search for purity that has seem to become lost amidst the rampant cynicism that permeates our connected age of information inundation. Bizarre humor and a confident directness are elemental to the artist’s work – each component within a composition handled with as little fuss as possible. In conversations with the artist he speaks of recent trips to Yosemite and a perpetual urge to break from the confines of the city and venture into the wilderness that surrounds the Bay Area. Roberts’ paintings should be seen in a similar light to his outdoor excursions, providing the artist another means of escape from the constraints of an urban day to day, finding refuge in an imagined world instead of the material one.
Brian Willmont (b. 1983) is an artist and curator based in New York. Willmont has recently shown with New York’s Victori + Mo and The Hole Gallery, Stockholm’s Steinsland Berliner, and Dallas’ Circuit 12 Gallery, as well as being featured in our 2015 popup “Irving Variety”. In addition to his prolific studio practice, Willmont heads the exciting Greenpoint Terminal Gallery in Brooklyn, NY. Willmont received a BFA from the Massachusetts College of Art.
Joe Roberts (b. 1976) is a San Francisco based artist. He has most recently exhibited with New York’s Marlborough Chelsea and Los Angeles’ Slow Culture Gallery. Roberts’ work from the past decade was collected in an acclaimed monograph titled “LSD WORLDPEACE” published in 2014 by Unpiano Books. Joe Roberts attended SFAI.