It doesn't seem far-fetched for Oprah to rent out the Roman Colosseum to give a speech to the students of her leadership academy for girls, does it? This (and more) happens in the collages of Wain Wayne, who joins painter Jacob Goble in Rookies, on exhibit at the Richard Levy Gallery.
Entering the gallery, viewers are greeted by Goble’s 50 Derby 50, a large painting of a demolition derby where cars batter each other, smoke and dust curling into the air. Positioned as a spectator, the viewer is divided from the derby by an expansive, yellowed field that dominates most of the canvas. Goble has illustrated the action, but the focus of the painting seems to be on the act of watching, hinting at the disconnect that exists between the spectators and the main event. 50 Derby 50 is a good introduction to the rest of the show, acting as a primer, of sorts, on the issues Goble is addressing in all of his work.
It's clear we’re not privy to the whole story in these paintings, but that’s the nature of any image. Goble gives us objects that are pieces of a broader narrative, refusing to illustrate the full picture, but, more importantly, refusing to editorialize. In that sense, the images provide observational wiggle room, and viewers are asked to extend themselves as much as they’d like into the reading.
Aesthetically, there’s an unavoidable connection between Goble and other contemporary painters who employ a similar painting method, specifically Wilhelm Sasnal and Luc Tuymans. These artists have a comparable predilection for painting from photographs of very specific objects using quick applications of paint that belie a bit of dumbness but ultimately triumph through their super-smart references. In this scheme of painting, most of the work is done in choosing what to paint, while the actual act of painting becomes secondary.
That familiar aesthetic is the weakness of Goble’s work. Conceptually, he is making strong choices in trying to deal with the nature of objects and the act of looking, but those ideas are undercut simply by the fact he’s trading them as a currency that doesn’t appear to be his, or more appropriately, a currency so broadly used it has lost its meaning. As a result, the work asks the viewer to be too sympathetic to its intellectual undertones. If the intellectual depth is genuine, I’d expect future work to shake off the familiarity.
In the project room, Wain Wayne uses collage to probe our visual culture. In Remodeling, Wayne disarms the tastemakers through a collusion of Uncle Ben imagery, palatial homes, American soldiers and contractors in a commentary on who defines taste and how they control it. In Get Your Paws Off My Woman, K-Fed revels in a celebrity status that enables him to live in a massive modernist office-
There is difficulty for any gallery in getting behind the work of a new artist, let alone a recent MFA graduate (Goble) or someone moving through a relatively new working process (Wayne). Levy Gallery has made a strong move with the artists in this show and everyone should take the time to see it.
Rookies is on display at the Richard Levy Gallery (514 Central SW, 766-9888) through Feb. 22. For more information, visit www.levygallery.com.
David Leigh is the former director of Donkey Gallery.