Mr. Wiggleworm

For me, one of the hardest parts of making art is striking the proper balance between clarity and poetry. Creating symbolism is relatively simple; creating symbolism that’s neither too obvious nor too obscure is relatively difficult.  

To this end, I have, for years, painted for that mythical person I’ve called “the thoughtful viewer,” trying to create metaphors that are neither bang-you-over-the-head obvious nor so difficult that they require my explanation to be understood.      

With this body of work, I’ve found a happy middle ground, creating a series of paintings that can be deciphered without my input.   The formula that allows this to happen is to simply juxtapose two elements out of which comes a third: a point of view.   Here’s how I arrived at this formula.

It began with a desire to somehow incorporate some of the coloring books of my youth into a piece of art.   I had a small collection of coloring books from the early 60’s and as I looked through them I was struck by how gender stereotypes were presented.   The “Annette Funicello Coloring Book,” which had belonged to my sister, was all about being pretty, getting married and making a home.   The “Fighting Men in Action” coloring book, which was mine, was all about masculine aggression and the cool machinery of war.

At first, I thought that simply copying selected images from these books onto a large canvas would be enough to convey meaning.   But then, from either a desire to make them more “mine,” more clever, or more clear, I decided that they would work better if they were not just copied onto plain white canvas, but onto pages from meaningful books.   So I found “Women and Self-esteem,” and “Anger Kills,” pulled them apart, glued their pages to the canvas, sanded them smooth and copied the coloring book images onto them.   These two pieces became “Shopping for Clothes” and “Pitching a Hand Grenade”, both on the theme that gender stereotypes are reinforced from a very young age and that this is not necessarily a healthy thing.

After these first two pieces were created, I was very enthusiastic about the format: two elements in each painting; one of them defining the topic, and its juxtaposition against the other creating a point of view on that topic.   It’s simple, readable, and aesthetically pleasing,   and so I pursued it, creating works on other themes such as feminism (“Save Me”), environmentalism (“Silent Spring”), the desire for sexual adventure (“Delta of Venus,”), advertising (“Makes me like milk more,”) and faith ("The age of fable").   I also started considering ways to make the pieces more aesthetically interesting within the format, and you’ll see that the surfaces are varied.

The paintings in this series are fun to look at and fun to think about, and while there are precedents in Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg and Warhol, the most important precedent for me is my own art movement, the one I’ve called “funism,” whose simple tenets are as follow:
     •Art should be as much fun to look at as it is to think about.
     •Art should be intellectually engaging without being intellectually elitist.
     •Art should invite interpretation.

Vis-à-vis these criteria, this body of work succeeds; I hope my “thoughtful viewer” agrees.

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