February 8, 2012 · Print This Article
This Friday, Steve Seeley’s painting show opens at Rotofugi (who not too long ago moved to Lincoln Park, so check the website for their new address if you’re unsure). Seeley’s figurative work often features the juxtaposition of human bodies and animal limbs, or heads. Sometimes alien parts make an appearance as well. He integrates old and new surfaces, incorporating the nostalgia of his childhood into a present assemblage. I grew more and more interested in something we didn’t talk about, namely the idea of the hero and how it charts through these visual, narrative landscapes. Seeley’s icons adopt the iconography of saints and superheros with all of the mystical proportions childhood bears with them. To re-erect and reexamine the Gods of childhood in effort, perhaps, to examine those ancient power structures. In Seeley’s case, they often become hybrid.
Caroline Picard: I’m really interested in the way you combine natural elements with mythical ones: for instance, the way your work often offers a kind of misty (and almost traditional-painterly) background with a vibrant superhero, or animal, alien or hybrid in the foreground. It kind of reminds me of old cartoons; in the Smurfs, for instance, you could tell the background was fixed to one surface, and moving figure(s) interacted on a clear gel over top. How did you come upon this strategy in your own work?
Steve Seeley: The backgrounds for me are definitely an homage to animation cels. I’m a child of the 80s and I grew up on cartoons; He-man, Thundercats, Thundarr, and the like, so that sort of nostalgic animation occupies a huge section of my creative mind. I started the “delicate matter” body of work in 2004 with the backgrounds being multi-layered and muted, almost ghost like, paintings, and at some point maybe three years ago, I transitioned to printed matter. I have always integrated things I collect into my work, I guess in a way bowing to my inner nerd. Thus the action figure-y, comic book-y and taxidermy look and feel. I also happen to collect antique chromolithographs. Mainly landscapes. So it was only natural for me to eventually incorporate/appropriate these into the work. The process involves buying a lithograph, scanning it in, messing around with it, and printing it out to paint on. By printing them out (opposed to painting directly on the print) I can control overall scale, color, direction and halftone size. And after all the other elements are painted, I get that stark dichotomy with the digital print and the paint, given that animated feel I grew up on.
CP: Your use of the bear, the deer, and the wolf feels very iconic, somehow, especially in those places where give your figures gold-plate halos. Can you talk about how your engage the animal world? Is the ram-figure any different from superman’s figure?
SS: Again, a great deal of my work ideas come from a nostalgia. The animals are a nod to growing up in the sticks of Wisconsin. I use animals that I used to see everyday (the deer and specific birds) as well as the animals my brothers and I feared when we played in the woods (the bear and wolves). I grew up in the super small town of Ringle which happened to be home to one of the largest wild dog packs in the state of Wisconsin. So I incorporate any number of dogs that I saw or that may have survived to be part of the wild pack (sorry chihuahua and pugs, I love ya but I you wouldn’t have made it).
As for the difference between man and animal, there isn’t a huge difference for me. In the “delicate matter” series, the story so far is that man has left earth for outer space because he becomes enamored with something he can’t comprehend, something that is entirely different from what he knows. He leaves earth on bad terms with the animals and while he is gone animals become what they were destined to be, a transformation per se, into heavy metal loving, super power using, pop culture loving creatures. When man gets to space he finds it to be less than he had hoped, and he tries to come back but the animals refuse. So man is stuck in space while animals take he’s place back on earth, essentially filling his old shoes, and becoming the new “man.”
There were a few years when I only painted animals (except in the “segue” paintings) but currently man has started to reappear. But only under the guise of a superhero since generally that means your true identity is hidden. Oh yeah and celebrities have always remained on earth, which is why the animals often chill with Miley Cyrus and let Sasha Grey ride around on their backs.
CP: At the same time, your figures are basically anatomically correct, and feature studied detail. Then of course there are places and points where you interrupt our expectations, creating a hole inside a bear’s chest for instance. Or giving a human torso a wolf head: how do these interruptions come about?
SS: The holes (along with the halos) are meant to lightly symbolize a religion, rather literally. The holes become an extreme stigmata of sorts. I am not necessarily a religious person but I am fascinated by what religion does to societies. It causes rifts and causes people to take sides, which can result in conflict… which is something for years I didn’t have in my paintings. Everything and everyone peacefully coexisted. It was thru adding the religious aspect that I was able to split the world I had created.
The head swapping was a way for me to even more-so humanize the animals. Initially all the human body, animal headed figures in my paintings were referred to as “saints”, figures that were idolized by the other animals and which usually also adorned halos. But once Saint Sasha Grey and Saint Cringer (from He-man) got introduced, I began to play with the animal headed figures as not only religious icons but also celebrity icons. For my upcoming show at Rotofugi there are 25 animal/alien/monster headed human figures all imagined as boxers or wrestlers. My intention is to make them a whole new breed of celebrity within the world they exist, at the same time causing additional rifts. Sport is such an easy way for people (or animals in this case) to turn on one another and choose sides.
see more of Seeley’s work by going here.
This weekend is making up for the last couple slow ones. In all, 35 openings, with shows in all the standard art districts, a few museum events, and an awesome array of shows at the weird-ass venues that make Chicago such a vibrant art scene. Here’s my picks:
1. Living Treasure at Pentagon
“Living Treasure is a shadow of Pentagon Gallery’s first opening Nemesis, A show that engaged cultural others and darkness in music, film, literature and athleticism. Living Treasure attempts to take note from Nemesis but focuses on current global issues and America’s involvement with in them. Each artist transforms ideas of violence, destruction, environment, religion, and sexuality by utilizing different mediums and engaging the viewer to be critical of their own social nature. The show it’s self might seem sinister but stays satirical with subject and matter.” Work by Carl Baratta, Carolina Wheat, Montgomery Perry Smith, Theodore Darst, Ryan Ingebritson & Flash Gordon (1980).
Pentagon is located at 961 W. 19th St., 1F. Reception is PLEASE NOTE: Saturday from 7-10pm.
2. Younger Than Janis at Noble & Superior Projects
“The work of all of these artists (who together cover film, sculpture, sound, food, printed matter, painting, photography and video) considers the ephemeral nature of youth and beauty. The work ranges from musings on death to pursuit of an infinite youth, covering all the fleeting affect in between.” Work by Marcel Alcala, Ryan Barone, Lucas Blair, Patrick Bobilin, Connor Camburn, Kevin Clancy, Adam Cruces, Cara Anne Greene, Eliza Koch, Andre & Evan Lenox, Vanessa Macholl, Celia Marks, Ross Meckfessel, Michael Morris, Erin Nixon, Michael Radziewicz, Anna Rochinski, Steve Ruiz, Liz Rugg, Hannah Verrill, Blair Waters, Ali White, Andrew Norman Wilson, and Travis Wyche.
Noble & Superior Projects is located at 1418 W. Superior St. Reception is Friday from 6-10pm, film screening is Saturday from 7-10pm.
3. A Packer Schopf 3-fer: “South County Scrapbook”, “Gleaners, Hawkers, and Reapers” and “Skivery”
Danny Hein: South County Scrapbook – “My drawings are inspired by romantic memories of growing up in rural Indiana. I always felt there was a lot of mystery there. The figures here represent the land. I think of them as corn-fed-ghosts.”
Catherine Jacobi: Gleaners, Hawkers, and Reapers – “The Histories of Objects are platforms from which Jacobi starts her pieces – considering a narrative that has already existed and one that she will have imagined existed. The novelty of form is that it leads you to believe it will endure. Look at a body, her body – immortality it seems is mortal.”
Nancy Bardawil & Casey Gunshel: Skivery – “Nancy Bardawil started her art career as a painter and a sculptor, but for the last twenty years she has been working in film as a director. Although she’s been painting since she was six-years-old, this is the first time she’s shown her paintings in public. As a child, Casey Gunschel learned to draw by way of National Geographic and Dungeons and Dragons monster manuals. That introduction has inspired a lifetime fascination with animals, creatures and all things wild.”
Packer Schopf Gallery is located at 942 W. Lake St. Reception is Friday from 5-8pm.
4. Action! at Chicago Art Department
“ACTION! is a Chicago Art Department exhibition themed around the idea of the Hollywood summer blockbuster movie. Since the release of Jaws in 1977, the summer movie season has, for better or for worse, become characterized by over the top, big budget, action, special-effects laden movies that we now know as “the summer blockbuster”. The art in this exhibition looks at the summer movie as cultural phenomena and symbol, as nostalgia and memory, and yes even simple, mindless fun.” Work by Ryan Roberts, Christophe Roberts, Clare Rosean, Nat Soti, Jim Jeffers, Ali Serradge, Sarah and Joseph Belknap, Kayce Bayer, Chris Lin, and Kerry Flaherty.
Chicago Art Department is located at 1837 S Halsted St. Reception is Friday from 6-10pm.
5. Visible City: Map Room at Fill in the Blank Gallery
“Visible City: Map Room is part of an ongoing body of work by Aaron Delehanty in which painted images and drawn maps work together to build a mythos of a nonexistent place called Visible City. This exhibition highlights two features of this city—its urban physical space and its mental space—by showing scenes of the city as being designed in harmony with its surroundings. The maps of Visible City are strange and unique, different from your usual map because Visible City is a different kind of human settlement.”
Fill in the Blank Gallery is located at 5038 N. Lincoln Ave. Reception is Friday from 7-11pm.