I've been worrying about my paintings looking like other artists' work, even the artists I don't yet know about. I was particularly wrapped up in this conundrum when I hit the Tenderloin for a couple of gallery openings last week. I walked into Ever Gold Gallery's latest exhibit, PLASTASTIK and was instantly reminded of local heroes, the Mission School artists. To me, immediately recognizable colors, materials, style and imagery screamed Alicia McCarthy and Andrew Schoultz. But this was the work of David Marc Grant, a local artist who attended the San Francisco Art Institute and is admittedly influenced by the "Mission School" and "Lowbrow" art movements. Read an interview with Grant at evergoldgallery.com.
Mission School, or New Mission School. Lowbrow or New Brow. However you label these genres and sub-genres of stylistically familiar artists, their influence is huge and it is trickling down fast and furiously. There are artists coast-to-coast who might fit in to these categories or appear to be influenced by them, but I'm sensing a new movement forming with a localized concentration. If I could label this new group of artists and galleries sprouting up, I'd call it the 'Loin School and I'd say it is characterized by an optimistic aesthetic shrouding a pessimistic (read: realistic) viewpoint. This art reminds you that it's pretty amazing you're still alive, because the world is a hot mess.
Speaking of hot messes, Grant's collaborator, Chadwick Heath Moore created some sculptures for the show. Amalgamations of water bottles split down the middle, plastic Easter eggs, straws, and other PLASTASTIK detritus were bound together in crawling clumps that hung from the wall and ceiling. In a small room at the back of the gallery, a spidery plastic installation was illuminated with white/blue neon lights. During the opening, people slumped on the floor beneath it like they were in the "chill room" at a rave. What made me give up some love for Moore's work was the discovery of a few tiny plastic pies stuffed in the sculpture's nooks. I realized how detailed the work was, and when I read this interview with the artist, I appreciated how he talked about wire and plastic functioning the same way as paint and pencil in his eyes. And I could obviously see a connection with The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which both of the artists were pondering when they conceived the show. I've met a few other artists who were similarly inspired by this dead bird, and I wouldn't mind seeing a few more artists commenting on plastic's destruction. Plastic brought us so much joy growing up in the form of toys and collectible cups, and we rely on it for many things. But now it's also a mass of horrendousness that is literally suffocating the world. There is a lot to say about it.
Back to Grant's paintings. The minute I saw them, I wished I'd made them myself. His rainbow stripes and piled up imagery of structures and objects painted on box panels and book covers were very inviting, despite their commentary on environmental degradation. His work reminded me that it's not a crime to wear your influences proudly, because the message (and the messenger) can never be exactly the same. Art is meant to create conflicting opinions, and there is always room for a comparable contribution from the new school. Some of the Mission School artists focused on street culture and classism, initiating a conversation that still rages today. 'Loin School artists like Grant and Moore are continuing that dialogue with updated concerns that reflect the most current (and calamitous) global issues.
PLASTASTIK is on view through March 25, 2010 at Ever Gold Gallery in San Francisco.