“All things are part truths and the artist is the man who looks for, strives for the whole truth, and to me the only place in God’s green earth that he can find it is within himself.” – Forrest Bess1
Edward Ressle is pleased to present IT’S PERSONAL on view from May 3rd through July 14th, 2018 showcasing fifteen American artists that examine the human condition through their work. Spanning over seven decades and using various methodologies, the works provide insight into the artists’ explorations of the self. Although the survey varies in appearance and approach, the juxtaposition of the works demonstrate that the personal can extend far beyond the individual.
Jonas Wood’s Kiki (2010), captures his iconic portraiture style with his depiction of Kiki VanDeWeghe’s basketball card. Kiki’s commanding presence reminds the viewer of the lasting impression celebrities and athletes leave on their fans. The choice to make this seemingly trivial object the subject of the work reflects how mementoes and memories from childhood can still influence one today. Like Wood, Katherine Bernhardt’s Untitled (2017) from her Pattern Painting series, employs the consumer motifs and icons that surround our quotidian lives. Reminiscent of Helen Frakenthaler’s style, Bernhardt uses her improvisational painterly technique that combines graffiti and ephemeral liquid aesthetics to depict a droopy-eyed Pink Panther. The Panther, though vibrantly colored, appears jaded—suggesting a critique of the American identity and its increasing dependence on consumerism and pop-culture.
John Dogg, the pseudonym of duo Richard Prince and Lower East Side Gallerist and artistic co-conspirator Colin De Land, is known for his appropriation of American muscle car aesthetic into his art. This appropriation reflects the role the car has played in American culture as a signifier of freedom and individuality. Dogg’s 1986 sculpture, Untitled (Classic Belted), uses a common tire as a way of investigating the role everyday items play in the creation of the American dream and identity. The work demonstrates Prince’s own hobbyist obsession with the car and De Land’s commentary on the overheated art market of the 1980s. In a Duchampian, readymade approach, the mundane tire is presented in a pristine wooden box, transforming it into an object of reverence.
In George Condo’s 2011 New Museum retrospective Mental States, the artist said, “representational pictures are the artist’s body, abstractions are pictures of the artist’s mind.”2 Combining his distinctive style with pop cultural iconography and references, Condo’s two featured works Abstract Head (1) (2012) and Abstract Face (2012) utilize his unique combination of drawing and painting to create the contorted faces that he describes as “psychological landscapes.” By treating the paper with the same respect that canvas demands, confident lines and playful colors emerge—forming the misshapen image. Although Condo employs pop-culture iconography the portraits— with their conflicting depictions of a single individual—become psychological examinations of the human condition.
A highly respected painter amongst his peers, artist Josh Smith explores his subject matter with an avant-garde attitude that distinguishes his work. In an interview with Harmony Korine, Smith said of his iconic Name Paintings, “I made work specifically for them not to like. If you made paintings of flowers and someone says they hate it, it’s like, ‘What do you mean? It’s a flower!’ But if you make a painting of your name and somebody says they hate it, it’s like, ‘Well, why would you like a painting of my name anyway?’”3 With this as his guiding principle, Smith rejects bravado style painting, instead using seemingly clumsy, Guston-esque brushstrokes, to depict his banal subjects and question how society views art. In Untitled (Name Painting) (2011), Smith uses something as simple as his signature to explore his identity as an artist in today’s society. The assemblage of vibrantly printed panels, individually abstract, come together to create a shameless, playful, and self-critical composition of his own autograph, directly confronting the formalities of painting and the traditional representations of the artist as a virtuoso.
The ultimate painter’s painter, Forrest Bess’s lived what can only be described as a sensational life. Visited by vivid dreams and visions since the age of four, Bess began to create art to explore his psychosis. His life was shaped by his investigation of sexuality, sanity, and self-acceptance. Influenced by the writings of Carl Jung, Bess went through two painful acts of self-surgery to become a hermaphrodite, believing that this transformation was the key to immortality. But, unlike Van Gogh, whose art can be overshadowed by his life stories, Bess’ work was able to transcend his personal life, and critics and collectors like Meyer Schapiro and Betty Parsons saw the merit of his art. Parsons, his dealer of twenty years, presented his distinctly small paintings in their handmade frames alongside esteemed artists such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Barnett Newman. Bess’ featured work Untitled (Three Figures) from 1946, is one of only three figurative paintings done during his life. By depicting solidly painted bodies, a scene of violence within a foreboding dream-like environment materializes. His use of hauntingly omnipresent imagery and vibrant colors serves as a visual diary – a physical externalization of the intimate and torturous feelings he experienced throughout his life.
While inventive and unique in artistic philosophy and processes, the featured artists’ works collaborate to create a timeless body rooted in the notion of selfhood and the experiences of existing. Time has shown that inquiry into notions of identity and the personal have been, and will likely always remain, an area of great intrigue.
1 Forrest Bess: Key to the Riddle by Chuck Smith. Published in 2013.
2 “The Mental States of George Condo,” by Marina Cashdan. Published by Huffington Post in 2017.
3 “Josh Smith,” by Harmony Korine. Published by Interview Magazine in 2011.