George Billis Gallery presents Wes Hempel & Bryan Ida
Open Friday and Saturday through art weekend LA.
Show Runs Through: September 8th – October 6th, 2012
For decades, Wes Hempel has been committed to re-envisioning the depiction of masculinity in contemporary art. By setting psychologically acute portraits of modern-day men against backdrops appropriated from such disparate sources as neoclassical history painting and Dutch golden age landscapes, the artist’s works forge provocative dialogues between past and present.
The current body of work continues this longstanding practice of combining art historical elements with contemporary figures. The paintings are linked to the past both in their subject matter and their surface qualities. Even when they aren’t quoting specific art historical references, the paintings have a traditional look, as if they were produced in another era. The figures, upon close inspection, however, reveal that these are indeed contemporary work. Hempel has actively cultivated this traditional look for a number of reasons. One of his ongoing projects is a re-visioning of what art history might have looked like had homosexuality not been vilified.
Hempel writes of his work, “a walk through any major museum will reveal paintings that depict or legitimate only certain kinds of experience. Despite the good intentions of critical theorists questioning the validity of the canon, paintings of the old masters on the walls of museums like the Met, the Louvre, Rijksmuseum still have a certain cache. They’re revered not just for their technique but because they enshrine our collective past experience. Of course, it’s a selected past that gets validated. Conspicuously absent to me as a gay man is my own story. By presenting contemporary males as objects of desire in familiar looking art historical settings, I’m able to imagine (and allow viewers to imagine) a past that includes rather than excludes gay experience-and ride the coattails, as it were, of art history’s imprimatur.”
Quite a few of Hempel’s paintings are working on that level (some rather playfully). For example, the piece titled Auction is an easily recognizable rendition of Jean-Leon Gerome’s (1824-1904) painting Slave Auction (c.1884), except the artist moved the setting outdoors. And where in the original a nude woman is offered for sale to the crowd, the auctioneer now offers a rope-bound male angel. Similarly, in the piece titled A Breakfast , he has taken the setting of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s (1839-1912) painting Silver Favourites (1903) and replaced the three beautiful maidens with four nude young men. The paintings Breather and Return of Spring (revisions of a Vermeer and Bouguereau, respectively) offer similar exchanges.
Christopher Harrity writes of Hempel’s work, “joining the mythic allusions and technical fluency of classical art together with the ideas of personal narrative and social content of postmodern art, Hempel’s paintings explore the divide between the ancient and modern, reason and passion, august ideals and the profoundly individual. The artist recasts modern male figures in historical and culturally iconographic settings, provoking both a rethinking of assumed narratives and mythic themes and inviting a similar reconsideration of contemporary life, masculinity, and sexual norms. Hempel’s societal investigations are rendered in sensuously modeled flesh tones, gleaming marble surfaces, and the immersive depth of Arcadian landscapes — proving as visually seductive as they are conceptually rigorous.”
George Billis Gallery is pleased to present Socal, the gallery’s first exhibition of Bryan Ida’s new work. The exhibition features a series of rectangular and circular wall pieces.
The artist writes of his work: “My new series of paintings, using round and rectangular shaped panels, explore the intricacy, diversity, complexity, and beauty of the cities we live in. Cities are built in layers, and when you peel away layer by layer truths are revealed. I like the idea of layers and reveals, digging and unearthing forms.
The round panels in my new series are mandalas. These come from the perspective of looking straight up from a city street and seeing the tall buildings converge on a central point. The focal point is the center of the mandala. When one looks straight up from a downtown street perspective is lost. Things turn into abstraction because one has no idea where he/she is or how to navigate. From the vertical perspective things have less identity. When turning your gaze down and looking from the horizontal perspective, order is somewhat restored. One can see the signs and buildings used to identify a location. The rectangular paintings in my series demonstrate this concept.
I use the representation of the negative space behind the forms to tell as much of the story as possible. The use of negative space for me is about finding a place to fit in; the relationship between what is there and what is not.
I try to create a feeling of depth by isolating layers of paint between thick layers of epoxy. You get a physical depth as well as painted depth with forms intertwining themselves, like stories of individuals in a city full of people.
I explore a new palette in my “Cities.” My goal is to give more emphasis to the intermediate colors that are more muted, but still vibrant, which cover most of the space. These intermediate colors can be composed to create contrast and vibrant interaction much like the day to day workings of a large city. Warm colors will move forward while the cooler colors will recede. Then the high intensity, pure hues can be introduced as compliments in the composition and create places that attract the eye. These hues are the flash and glitz of the big city.”