‘Change’ We Can Believe In
The skate-punk sensibility of ‘Spare Change’ at the Hibbleton offers some real political capital for these uncertain times
What a disappointment punk was. While there were thoughtful, even intellectual aspects of the movement, the reflexively anti-authoritarian parts always seemed to win out. The music—and most conversations—were invariably Two Minutes Hate, the brainwashing technique featured in George Orwell’s 1984: You’d get a rush of guitars, a chorus of anger and a litany of political monsters with the simplest of simple-minded political slogans.
Considering the tremendous influence of punk on skater culture, honest personal and political reflection would be the last thing I’d expect at Hibbleton Gallery’s “Spare Change,” curator Jesse La Tour’s new exhibition featuring five artists directly connected with skateboarding. But it turns out that some of this work has some real creative and political heft.
Russ Pope’s titular painting leads off: a giant chessboard, pennies and dimes floating amid grimacing faces filled with distress, adrift in the game of life, broke and broken, barely cognizant of the red splatters at the bottom right of the picture. That dim anxiousness over impending violence is the overriding theme flowing through much of Pope’s displayed work: Man In the Hat is another head separated from its body, this time facing a wash of Army-fatigue-green nothingness. Blue paint—or is it blue blood?—runs in a torrent from his neck to the bottom of the painting. Orange Crush is six cartoony, orange faces in front of an angry, red background, throwing worried, sidelong glances at a glowering face in the middle, a simmering bomb waiting to explode. Life in Orange County, perhaps? Safe Camp is divided into four sections: Big Brother eyes staring out from a swatch of scarlet in the upper left, barbed wire to the right, bottom left a circle being penetrated by an arrow aimed at the surrendering Mr. Peanut figure in the bottom right. The bowling-pin-shaped people of Pins are all thick black lines, immobile, panicky looks aimed at one another as they await the rolling ball knocking them into the gutter.
Mike Myers’ mixed media is something of a letdown after Pope’s cartoony miasma. Generous helpings of black and green paint, gold leaf, pen scribbles, pastels, and crayons look to have been thrown into a blender. The muck that ensues has evocative titles—Golden, Bistro, Rose and Rodeo—and while you can make out a pair of sloppily drawn hands, something resembling a cowboy hat or a flower in a vase, I found the pictures immensely unattractive, empty of vision or technique.
Despite references to Obama and Mother Earth, as well as naked figures looking back at the Capitol or the White House like Lot’s wife to Sodom, Chris Pastras’ three acrylic-on-wood pieces simply stand on the shoulders of giants: namely, Gandhi and Lennon. The quotations from these two, painted onto wood next to the amateurish characters, come off as little more enlightening than hippy-dippy bumper stickers. It’s sloppy, ugly work; the hefty price tags are an inflated embarrassment.
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While artist Chris Yormick also stands on the shoulders of giants—Bruegel, Goya and Manet, among others—he has created something altogether original from those influences. Taking nine more-or-less-famous works of art, Yormick remixes them via hand-drawn work done in pen, Arabic writing, art clipped and torn from magazines, pieces of string, and colorful wrapping paper, making the masters’ works his own. A wonderful, throw-away sense of humor informs the work: His version of Courbet’s Woman With a Parrot replaces the bird in the nude figure’s hand with a phallic jetfighter, a sly binding together of sex and political violence. His remake of Rubens’ Venus and Adonis replaces the cherub with an Angels baseball player. An empty window in Cartier-Bresson’s photograph Alicante, Spain has hands reaching through bars under Yormick’s gaze.
Andy Jenkins’ six handsome New Depression Refuse pieces are striking examples of mixed media on paper and board, the large pictures made of 20-to-25-panel grids that have been stained to the warm brown of old book pages. The paper trail of our lives—yellow legal pads, torn admission tickets, car-registration forms, foreign currency, old envelopes, newspapers, a Democratic ballot receipt scratched out angrily, various colorful baggage tags, a hand drawing or two, service agreements, hymnal pages, bail-bonds literature—is all torn, spindled and mutilated, placed sparingly on the grids, bisected by or hiding behind the occasional penciled circle.
Take a few steps back, and they look like satellite maps of a city, the paper fragments blocks and towers and side streets, a Thomas Brothers guide to our individual histories. Hand-written poetry on one of the canvases says, “All these things All these things all these things all these things are much too much.” Au contraire, Mr. Jenkins, our country needs you to keep struggling with our sepia-tinted past (and present) to rework and give context to these uncertain times.
“Spare Change” at the Hibbleton Gallery, 112 W. Wilshire Ave., Fullerton, (714) 441-2857; www.hibbleton.com. Open Thurs. & Sun., 1-6 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 1-10 p.m.; and by appointment. Through March 29.