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+Commentary: Of course any artist that uses Kimba the White Lion, Ren & Stimpy, Scrabble, Disney characters, and a ‘homage’ to or updated Roy Lichtenstein approach is gonna catch my eye. Really enthused by much of it, and trying to interpret meaning out of layers of pop iconography and postcard socio-political statements. It isn’t just my love for Osamu Tezuka that drew me in, but that was the hook. So much of my childhood recycled into art was bound to pique some interest.
However, as I oft do, when confronted with hipster satire, these sorts of implosions of both things that hold tremendous value (war, over-medicated generations, Big Pharma, mass consumerism, fascism) stratified or shellacked with a veneer of pop sensibilities that seemingly makes light of as a way of letting us all know we are in on the joke, can feel like the ba-dum-dum of a comedian’s back up band.
In a culture so rife with irony, when does the ironic not become enough anymore? That is the central question I’ve asked myself, especially as what used to be the sole purview of queer culture, camp & irony, are mainlined through and through. There is no doubt those sensibilities haven’t always been popular or much of what we call classic cinema or Hollywood’s Golden Age wouldn’t have been popular then, or had the staying power.
Yet when one sets out to make something deadly serious in its irony, alongside a rather slick & manufactured glossy production, can one as an artist be both critiquing & participating in the same thing? It is a bit like the movie inception, how far down or into something can one go before everything basically loses its meaning? Jon Waters, the reigning king of camp, made deadly serious movies, that are riotously funny & vulgar simultaneously, and even has had long enough career to have his zenith production Hairspray turned into a musical, and then that Broadway production turned into a movie. Like a snake eating itself it has not only had more life than anything else he ever did, but has probably lined his pockets very nicely. All in the span of two decades. Hardly a generation, in fact I’m expecting that last movie to be turned into either a mini-series dramatic event or the next longest running show on television. It is timeless, honestly.
So with that in mind, the above selections of Ben Foster were my favorites, while a lot of the rest of it, simply bored me, elicited no response, or got a mild chuckle. That doesn’t mean I think less of the artist. No, there are different series, mediums, and so on, and each seemed carefully thought of, planned out, and executed. Yet it also seems ready made for wearing, like t-shirts, and other “swag” ~ and hence almost reduces it somewhat, but again not because it translates so well into the consumerism that it mocks for relevancy. No, why shouldn’t I have an iPhone case making fun of World War III, it will get tons of laughs & stares from strangers.
These blurry, messy lines, which are not unlike the bleed in comic books into the margins, make perfect sense. Our entire life, and several generations now have been seduced into a world completely enthralled in its consumerism. That while they both revile it, and want to eat organic, that usually comes in the same old packages, by the same parent world-wide conglomerates, that have focus-grouped the right branding to make sure you think you are eating organic, more than actually care if you really are. This is just 21st Century Marketing 101. Yet Ben Foster’s work really seems stuck, both philosophically & spiritually in the 80s or 90s like a man listening to his mixtapes from high school and college. This too I do not say with derision, but with affection.
This is clearly the work of a white male artist, and even in using the seminal works of Tezuka, or dealing flippantly with genocide, there isn’t a sense that the world is STILL dealing with issues of racism, segregation, pogroms & genocide. Everything from #BlackLivesMatter to the indigenous population of Australia where he is from. In fact those things are or should be highlighted perhaps to broaden the work, or a check of the considerable privilege.
Just the other day reading about the overwhelming whiteness of the Art World in NYC, reminded me to cast a critical lens to this That while they are funny, and deal handily in the first world problems people now joke continuously about. Isn’t that just another way of diminishing it? Don’t we casually throw those sort of retorts out there to absolve us, the speaker of the ongoing problem with decolonization, patriarchal hegemony, or the capitalist structures we live in the vice grip of? It is as if all the jokes told in the 80s, or the routines of Karen Finley are now on everyone’s lips. Yet with the fire and the passion, yesterday’s yuppie gentrifier is today’s ironic hipster.
None of this, as I’ve said repeatedly diminishes this in any way, but is inspired by such art works. Lingers as it should as that thing stuck in your craw that twists & worms itself into your core like a virus or a parasite. A food binge hangover in an otherwise healthy diet.
From his about page:
Australian artist Ben Frost is known for his kaleidoscopic Pop Art, mash-up paintings that take inspiration from areas as diverse as graffiti, collage, photo-realism and sign-writing.
By subverting mainstream iconography from the worlds of advertising, entertainment and politics, he creates a visual framework that is bold, confronting and often controversial.
He has been exhibiting throughout Australia and internationally over the last 15 years, including solo shows in London, New York, Sydney, Toronto, Singapore and San Francisco, as well as group shows in Beijing, Mongolia, Amsterdam, Berlin and throughout the USA.