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.
With the exception of Smoke—another demolition scene—Goble’s other paintings are smaller in scale and more specific in what they show. For example, Decoy shows just that: a decoy, centrally located on a shore possibly in the Northeast. The staked wooden bird seems to be enjoying the view, like an actor in a film, ready to take part in what comes next. In another painting, a man with a broken nose is positioned behind a large, red geometric form.
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.
The major strength of the paintings is in the selection of the subjects—campfires, demolition derbies, bowls, picture frames, bird decoys. These scenes, and the objects in them, portend an ominous connection to a world beyond their edges. The impression of “what you see isn’t what you get” characterizes all of them. Looking at a large group of the paintings, it becomes clear how the underlying language of the paintings operates. These things over here are decoys. Those things are frames. Both name objects, but they also describe ways in which we construct images--that is, how we frame something can mean how we capture an image (in a frame) and it can mean how we choose to crop out pieces of information. The same linguistic shift holds for the decoy paintings—they are paintings of an object, but they also refer to the impossibility of capturing reality in a painting.
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-building-home, replete with cafeteria, guests Anne Heche and Kermit the Frog, and a house band featuring Robert Plant, Joanna Newsom and David Bowie. Absurd as it is, the very nature of collage allows for these incongruous relationships. Wayne’s intermixed world becomes more plausible and fascinating the longer the viewer looks into it.
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.