Jeffrey Dell: Big Pelt
These prints address the fact that looking at hair is fascinating and creepy
Reviewed by Rachel Koper, Fri., Oct. 10, 2008
'Jeffrey Dell: Big Pelt'
D Berman Gallery
Through Nov. 1
If you're tired of the media's Chicken Little-like "the sky is falling" refrains, try contemplating something closer to the heart, such as hair growth. "Big Pelt" is a meditation on all things hairy by printmaker Jeffrey Dell.
First off, "Big Pelt" is a great name for a show. It just sounds intriguing. And it's immediately complicated, like the art here. It prompts the question: Do I want a big pelt? Yes and no seems to be the answer. In Dell's artist statement, he confirms some thoughts on the ambiguous nature of body hair: "Hair happens. It arrives where we don't want it; we lose it where we do. Hair is both an expression of how insuppressible life is, while still being a reflection of the slow dissolution of life. It is both life force and entropy, youth and age, vigor and entropy."
Looking at hair is either attractive or very repulsive; there is little gray area in the emotional response to it. It's kind of fascinating and creepy. Dell is quite aware of this dual nature and plays with it in The Ravishing. This small, delicately detailed print features an eagle flying through a hole in the clouds while clutching a drooping hairy form. Though it may be based on a Michelangelo eagle, it seems to resemble the Greek Leda narrative, with the hairy form getting carried away through the sky looking suspiciously like angelic testicles. It's slightly patriotic. I think it's a very amusing and original piece of art.
Dell's series of small fade prints was made with acrylic and plastisol inks. They have a groovy Seventies composition with curved edges, suggesting a playing-card shape. The fades in the gradations of ink are quite op art as they are close in saturation. They are not neon colors but subdued in earthy tones. One in this series features a crushed-out cigarette, like a grim reaper in the tarot deck. On close inspection, it reveals itself to be hairy, thus abstractly connecting to the vigorous life force depicted in other works. It seems to be alive, a pleasure card.
Dell repurposed some moody black-and-white plates from an earlier, more somber series. He uses the gray, mysterious mezzotints as the background in two triptychs. These are overlaid with colorful silk-screened giant hairy figures in motion.
Dell's narrative is personally revealing. At times I feel like Dell tells me too much about himself. He wants viewers to squirm but keep looking, and he succeeds. This new batch of work connects directly to his past works while exhibiting a new vigor. He addresses the topics of growing hair and being hairy, aging, and a love-hate relationship with cigarettes. In Dell's accurate words, "Hair on the body of a loved one is cherished; on the body of a stranger it is repulsive, even frightening." Thanks for giving me something funny to think about while cleaning my bathroom.