folio arts

HACKED, Because It's Funny

Two 5 Points shows peek into contemporary conversations held in national/international air circles

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Tony Rodrigues’ funny it’s not funny -\_()_/- is a pointed look at contemporary painting that bleeds into political commentary by way of proximity and wit, now on view at Rain Dogs.

Rodrigues’ paintings bear an ideological and aesthetic kinship with Georg Baselitz and Martin Kippenberger, but they also reflect the artist’s interest in absurdity and subversion through the appropriation of the language and techniques of painting. These ideas—like “painterly paint” and “muddy palette”—are fused to cartoonish imagery, including a Sylvester the cat experiencing an existential meltdown.

There’s also a seeming disregard for ideas of composition and a hierarchy of visual importance, especially in the smaller pieces, where the artist seems to be pushing the boundaries of banality and disintegration within the confines of a rectangular picture plane. Hypochondria (You’ll Miss Me When I am Gone), resonates with humor and disquiet: a skeletal Bugs Bunny rests upon the ground with legs akimbo. It is somehow lewd and pathetic: an apt metaphor for these times artists are trying to parse and comment upon.

The result is a show that teeters on the edge of a kind of ugly wackiness steeped in insider art historical jokes and a 1980s ethos informed (at least a little bit) by David Wojnarowicz. These works also bring to mind the question Barry Schwabsky posed “object or project?” in an essay that tackled the ontology of painting. But there are enough points of access to pull the show back at the just right moment to a lighthearted (if fraught) wink not just to painting, but to those who traffic in the language around it. Perhaps that moment is the one just before ol’ Sylvester shoves a sixth cigarette into his maw.

Chip Southworth’s Hacked in the USA-R at Brew 5 Points is a continuation of his recent text-based paintings. The 3-foot-by-3-foot pieces on board make declarative statements about race, politics and police brutality. In so doing, Southworth treads the line between meme/poster and art, constructing of-the-moment sloganeer’d statements.

Painted in juicy pop colors of pinks, blues and reds, they’re linked to street art (Baron Von Fancy in particular leaps to mind) with a patriotic-by-way-of-Hamilton tone. In these works, it’s clear Southworth is concerned with drawing distinct lines of demarcation—a “woke” (his word) stance as illustrated by paintings that glibly call out specific American problems.

A suite of six text-based paintings is mounted across the longest wall in the space. With these works, Southworth doesn’t break any new ideological or political ground—in fact, they might be more closely read as a mea culpa on the part of the artist (he is white, male and American)—a stance from which he calls out his own privilege. However, the arranged words (perhaps) are meant to mirror the reaction of a nation that finds itself in the landscape of revocalized racist grandpas and ravenous despoilers of equity and hope; the words/paintings seem to follow a theme: Stolen, Trumped, Hacked, Wake, Woke, Fucked. 

In considering language-based works that tackle themes of inequity and systemic racism, it’s informative to look to the works of Dread Scott, Carrie Mae Weems and Hank Willis Thomas. Weems’ series, From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried (1995-’96) took historical photographs of Africans and African Americans sourced from university and museum archives and added text to the images in a strategy to return humanity and dignity to the subjects. Scott’s flag-work, A Man Was Lynched by Police Yesterday (2015) was created in response to the 2015 murder of Walter Scott, shot in the back by a police officer. And Thomas’ I Am a Man, (’09) 20 small text paintings based on photographs by Ernest Withers of the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike, when workers wore placards to reinforce their humanity to the white population.

Thomas, with Glenn Kaino and Favianna Rodriguez, is curating a huge group show in Los Angeles, Into Action, to mark the one-year anniversary of the Women’s March on Washington. He’s invited Southworth to participate. It opens Jan. 13 in an as-yet-undetermined space.

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