Last Friday night Jack Hanley Gallery reeked of spray paint. Large-scale, multi-layered landscapes of painted paper combined with thick textured materials were the backdrop for subtly placed, fabric-scrap creatures with tiny patches of fake fur hair. The sardonic figures seemed to have been created accidentally, yet pointedly, as if the images were spontaneously thrown together and then figured out later. Like the studio mistake an artist suddenly realizes is brilliant, similar to when Pollock supposedly accidentally dripped paint on a canvas and instantly discovered his moneymaker.
Some of the paintings' backgrounds were glossy and had lovely drippy streaks of metallic spray paint, which happens to be the most beautiful kind of spray paint ever. Easily missed in the crowded gallery was the fact that the little figures in the paintings had something pitiful and poetic to say. "It's like looking in the mirror only you are a little smaller and I hate what I see," was handwritten on a skinny strip of paper next to one of the hapless figures. Art school will lead you to believe that if you're going to include text in your work, you better have a damn good reason. Here, the text made the paintings feel soulful and the artist seem like an empathetic smarty. Personally, the messages elicited a woeful emotional connection -- an oddly reassuring reminder that frankly, everyone has to deal with the fact that life can be awfully sad sometimes.
Though the work touches upon despairing subjects, it does so with razor-sharp wit. It's hard to avoid amusement when viewing a piece of artwork titled Watch It Sucker Now I Have Two Husbands, even if the imagery has a lonesome feeling. Jon Pylypchuk is the artist in question, and he also works sculpturally. Two of his raggedy, three-dimensional creatures were on display with evil eyes attached to their black fabric heads. They had muted, multicolored cotton patchwork bodies and furry hair. The smaller figure's legs were simple wooden sticks attached to its cloth body, but somehow its pose conveyed a 'f**k off' attitude. The other figure was bigger and urinating a molded yellow stream that landed in a puddle in front of the little guy, who was holding a beer can and standing in the aforementioned pose.
Through salty scrap art, Pylypchuk comments on the dark parts of the human condition. His materials are not expensive (mostly wood and fabric scraps and a lot of glue), but his scenes are delightfully creative and recall Chinese landscape paintings or epic storybook illustrations. I once heard the photographer Catherine Wagner say she was disappointed when her students would say their artwork was too financially difficult to realize and that a dedicated artist could make substantive work out of cardboard and masking tape. Pylypchuk is a perfect illustration of this notion. He is equal parts poet and artist, and his work glows with a lighthearted, punked-out seriousness. It's not often you find word art, scrap art, and fine art holding hands and comforting one another, but Pylypchuk's work provides the opportunity to witness this anomaly in action. He doesn't often exhibit locally and unless you saw his international showings or his New York exhibit titled And Now Occasionally and Reluctantly I Lift My Head From Where it Usually Hangs in Shame, this is probably your first opportunity to see his work up close. If only time travel was a reality and I could revisit 2005 to see his Los Angeles exhibit, You Won't Live Past 30.
Sad music is good. Sad art is even better.
Jon Pylypchuk is at Jack Hanley Gallery through February 24, 2007.