Warren Oates in the Economic Crisis of 2008
The weathered character actor serves as outsider hero to this group show's artists
Reviewed by Rachel Koper, Fri., Jan. 23, 2009
'Warren Oates in the Economic Crisis of 2008'
Through Feb. 21
Okay Mountain is piled full of paintings and drawings in the exhibit "Warren Oates in the Economic Crisis of 2008." This group show curated by Dave Bryant features an assortment of artists he met and befriended while traveling over the last couple of years. These artists are akin aesthetically to semipsychedelic local artists such as Eric Gibbons, Ryan Lauderdale, and Nathan Green but come from across the country. With typical acumen, Bryant's show title is snippy, topical, and dated. To these artists and many other working artists, capitalism and celebrity rarely align their goals with painterly ones. These artists are used to working in a social void, making art that applies to their own sensibilities regardless of larger cultural support. At the crowded opening for this show, Bryant said, "Warren Oates was an artist's artist," a character actor whose name just kept coming up. Working artists from Portland, Ore., to Brooklyn sat and told Bryant about their appreciation of this weathered man. His visage and memory are the real topics of this art show.
Artists like to pick their own heroes, and, as in ethics, intention is everything in visual art. There is a weirdly charming triptych by Jim Tozzi, a member of the PFFR collective in Brooklyn. He painted a simple color wheel at the top of each black composition. Underneath each wheel, a delicately furry little green monster who worships it like it's a moon raises talismans and its hands toward it. It's a very positive, reverential piece that summons the spirit of R. Crumb and Maurice Sendak as influential and heroic.
In addition to pencil and ink drawings of the man himself, there are tributes to the era that defined Oates: the Seventies. Jennifer Sullivan has painted some glam portraits of the iconic Jane Fonda, a series of wildly colorful interview stills that manages to communicate a sense of her nervous hands and her signature big eyes with raccoonlike mascara. These forcefully awkward paintings grew on me by the second as I adjusted my eyes to her vivid palette. Frosty mugs of beer, apple pies, and rainbows are scattered happily throughout the show. There are a couple of graphite drawings of tie-dye patterns by Mike Pare that appear unironic perhaps because they are hung near a cute, vintage skateboard Mandela drawing with similar circles. Johnny Ryan's graphic interpretation (with lots of flies) of Sam Peckinpah's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is a literal tribute to the classic 1974 film.
Seventies pop culture was real. Sometimes I tend to dismiss those years as naive and reckless or undervalue them, but the artists in this fun show refuse to. Instead, they relish and lift up that time through their vintage, outsider hero. This tribute to Warren Oates sent me off pondering the social significance of Harry Dean Stanton. Maybe that could be a show for next year.