May 8th 2010

John Parot: Hobbies and Rachel Niffenegger

@ Western Exhibitions

119 N Peoria St, 2A, Chicago, IL 60607

Opening Saturday, May 8th, from 5PM - 8PM

On view through Saturday, June 12th

In Hobbies, John Parot continues his poetic investigation into gay urban living, this time training his eye on the attributes with which identities are built and publicly declared in the age of Internet dating and profiles. Under the auspices of Web 2.0, our identities are increasingly constructed through smiling snapshots and lists of preferences and favored activities. Parot humorously sums up this state of affairs with multi-hued pie charts that display likes and dislikes: “hot fudge sundae,” “fireworks,” “tequila please,” “enough with the man-scarves,” “no beige!” Signifiers of personal taste and style abound elsewhere: fragments of album art from presumably favorite records, polaroids of vodka bottles posed on the beach, packs of Parliament cigarettes, and plaid patterns. Handsome male face preside over the disparate imagery like profile pics.

The smiling, disembodied heads, clipped from fashion and porn mags, are embellished with intricate patterns of gouache that carry both tribal and retro-futuristic connotations. They hunt through abstract landscapes painted in a garish palette of hot rod red, screaming pink, electric blue and leathery black. Collaged imagery of raccoons and other nocturnal creatures provide metaphors for the impulsive, debauched, and promiscuous life of a gay man in the big city. As much as Parot is interested in contemporary gay subjectivity, he is also attuned to its atavistic resonances, whether in the animal kingdom or ancient cultures. Some heads glare, sphinx-like, from triangular supports. Like a mummy in a sacred tomb, Parot’s men are surrounded by symbols of status and personal biography. Moreover, the painted patterns that mask the faces are not unlike psychedelic versions of the rags in which a mummy is wrapped. With this reference to Egyptian tomb art, Parot conjures a more reflective tone, taking stock of his desires, adventures and identity.

Visually, Parot utilizes geometry more directly. Many works are situated on triangular panels. In the catalog for the recent Let There Be Geo show at A+D Gallery, Parot exclaims, “A triangle is a goddamn sexy shape.” Gradient fills of vibrant colors devour backgrounds, and triangles proliferate within individual compositions. Parot’s ornately drawn text endures, illustrating lyrics from songs, poetic phrases and catty diatribes.

In Gallery 2, Rachel Niffenegger will present two sculptures and four paintings on paper for her exhibition, titled As you pass by and cast an eye as you are now so once was I. Drawing inspiration from the title, an ancient epitaph, Niffenegger will convert Gallery 2 into a hall of heads.

Rachel Niffenegger’s disembodied heads, be they in sculpture or painting, come from a place of physical and psychological unrest, while also betraying an obsession with gross out humor and fantastical death scenes. Niffenegger’s visceral work walks this tightrope between the tragic and profane. Her painted heads, born out of intuitive and surrealist techniques, are as grotesque as they are intriguing, as they touch upon themes of mutilation and torture, witchcraft and philosophy. Her three-dimensional work references traditional sculptural busts. She considers them “sculptures with painting materials,” bound and pressed by hand to fully realize the texture of the constructed figures and their gnarled skin.

Niffenegger is inspired by the psychic automatism and fumage techniques of the surrealists. Her use of materials is key. The way she puddles pigments, and layers mediums is meant to evoke spirits, conjuring ghostly faces and body parts that are both decomposing and regenerating. She plies spray paint and smoke for ghostly and ghastly effect; resin, glue, candle wax and varnish to replicate melting flesh; and all sorts of random bits like sharp crackled plaster, wood, sawdust, rolls of butcher paper, glass eyes and found bones for her monuments of the defeated. Her process is intuitive, physical and violent, feverishly binding together paper and tape into portraits and death masks as if in a trance of remembrance. To cover them in alien slime is to revivify the creation.

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