POWERS. TVAT. DEFAZIO
Regarding appropriation and quotation, Thomas McEvilley wrote in his 1991 essay Art History or Sacred History, “Emphasis on the fragment and the politics of the fragment is an iconographic denial of transcendent or heroic selfhood“. The author argues that we find ourselves sifting through a milieu of myths related to modernist notions of progress still deeply rooted within our art historical conversation – that each successive generation of artists will improve upon the work of the last – an assumption that is not only incredibly exclusionary depending on inherent cultural biases and perspectives, but even stranger is the notion that there exists an absolute apex within the arts to which we all strive. As a critical strategy, appropriation provides the means to reorient hierarchies and expand dialogues across borders and boundaries within art discourse, restructuring a linear historical narrative and thereby obliterating the naive heroism that comes with such a foolhardy climb.
Rooting his work within the sphere of Painting, and image-making at large, Terry Powers operates as if in a kind of turpentine-fueled art historical drag performance – shifting identities, styles, and paint handling at will. It’s as if the figure in one painting, pulled from a 1958 David Park composition and cut off at the waist, has the same sense of distant and contemplative agency as in the original painting yet simultaneously is barely the thickness of a business card. Modernist image-based hierarchies are reduced to rubble as an early-90’s clip art penguin gazes back at the viewer, playfully emerging from a gestural de Kooning-esque backdrop flanked by cut out images of ancient sculpture. Powers’ paintings are perhaps most unsettling in how they provide a strange comfort and fulfill a need we never knew we had – as figures from divergent canons are reanimated as paper dolls and found consorting with unexpected new friends, all rendered back within the painting space thereby folding these chronologically fractured moments back into painting history.
John DeFazio employs quotation in a sculptural sense, using the industrialized processes of slipcasting and ceramic mold making to create ornate and politically charged takes on classic kitsch Americana, employing iconic ceramic forms such as the funerary urn, the toilet, and the bong. Much as Powers questions hierarchies within images and movements, DeFazio’s over the top fascination, patience and painstakingly individualized detail paid to each facet of a kitsch ceramic mold has the effect of raising even the most banal ceramic owl or Mickey Mouse. Kitsch, with its instantaneous power to assuage and pull at our collective heartstrings, functions as a kind of local anaesthesia through which DeFazio can deploy his own brand of social and political critique. Whether it’s a heavily lustered funerary urn remembering the homophobic murder of Matthew Shephard, or an apocalyptic woodland cookie jar clung to by a rodent Ronald Reagan, DeFazio’s ceramics not only deliver biting critique – their appropriation of the ceramic mold, itself a tool of mechanization, works to temporarily derail and interject sensitivity back into the machine of industrialism and global capitalism.
The work of Taravat Talepasand recontextualizes images and tropes pulled from Persian art history and contemporary Iranian society, often desecrating or subverting the signifying power they hold as a means to question the limits of human agency within western and eastern traditions, as well as where we draw such distinctions. Taravat’s paintings made specifically for this show employ the techniques of Persian miniature painting to reproduce a work by both DeFazio and Powers, furthering the conversation on appropriation to the extent to where we begin to call into question the authenticity of the original image, furthering the fracturing and reorienting of both time and our hierarchies of images.