By JON PETRO
"I feel like everything I do has something to do with filling up space. I dunno, almost the way I drum is the way I draw: It's like I'm covering every little space with a beat or a hit or something."
I never would have thought that this rather innocuous quotation, by Providence-based uber-artist Brian Chippendale, would bring into focus the idea of generational artistic influences.
Over the past several years I’ve tried, in vain perhaps, to define a common aesthetic quality in the art of artists from specific generations. Simply put, there are certain attributes to works of art made by artists born in the 1930's that you will not find in works of art created by artists born in the 1970’s. This idea may be very obvious for most people, but sometimes it’s hard for me to - how shall I say this - not see the forest for the trees.
Take, for example, the artist John O'Reilly, who since the mid 1950’s has been making montages that have a direct dialogue with art history. Since most artists of European lineage fled Paris for New York at the onset of the WWII, it's easy to recognize how O’Reilly’s aesthetic suggests a superior understanding of this pedigree. Its usage is not an imitation, as seen with subsequent generations, but respectful. This, in my opinion, reflects a mindset of the culture of art of his generation.
Fast forward to the generation of artists born in the 1970's, when the culture of art seemed to be played out and exhausted. At the very best, art had been reduced to an abbreviation of its former self: minimalism. It’s not a stretch to imagine that the youth of the 70’s would slowly start to reflect a culture, which sociologist and author Alvin Toffler described in the book of the same title, of "Future Shock:" "The shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time."
Brian Chippendale’s "Human Mold" at Providence’s Stairwell Gallery is a fertile ground to experience this theory. He could be the high water mark for artists born during the 70’s - a Renaissance man. Chippendale is a noise musician, but also fluent in printmaking, constructing paintings/collage and sculpture. Poised with this new insight into my beliefs in art, I found the exhibition to be kitsch, but in an odd way interesting. I want to say it’s an attempt at art as total entertainment.
As the second part of Brian Chippendale’s quote suggests "it's like I'm covering every little space with a beat or a hit or something," he fills the gallery with an over abundance of art in a way that is befitting of his age. The exhibition consists of a number of pieces that are collaged or printed images with some Basquiat-like scribbling for good measure.
The store front window is dominated by three sculptures: Catman, Funnyman and the Mushroom. Chippendale is a predicatively inconsistent artist, even though the three sculptures are interestingly life-size. Whether or not what appears to be a papier-mâché sculpture with magic marker scribbled on it is executed with the intent to fulfill formal issues of sculpture really isn’t the point. Funnyman’s bodily proportions are carelessly rendered, whereas Catman’s proportions seem to be far more believable. Gauging from these two aesthetic positions, it is anyone’s guess whether Chippendale understands human anatomy. The predominate content in "Human Mold" is humor that is executed with a complementary style (even if I have no idea what the inside joke is about). It is energetic and colorful even if only with a rudimentary understanding of primary colors. More importantly, it is oversaturated. For this generation the race is on.
It may be the most ambitious show this season in Providence, but it is not really connected to anything other than itself. If I read this generation correctly, it doesn’t fucking matter (Right? Isn’t that the credo?). Needless to say Brian Chippendale is very good at what he does, and he does quite a bit of it. Maybe it is the quantity over quality which I have noticed, but what I feel to be the incomparable truth about this showing of work is the fact that humor, which was marginalized by the art world in the 70’s in the name of progress, has replaced some of the other attributes of fine art.
"Human Mold" was on view in May 2008 at Stairwell Gallery.
All images are courtesy of the artist and Stairwell Gallery.