My husband Tom and I were looking for an art show to go to on a Saturday evening after 5:00 pm mass and were pleased to see an ad for the show “Thank You” at Galeria Obscura by mixed media artist Marley Billie D. The theme of the show really resonated with me because an old friend of mine had died a few days earlier, and I had recently submitted a proposal for an art show that involved a tribute to another friend that passed away last year and both deceased friends and others were heavily on my mind. Appreciating the impact people had on your life when they are gone is a good thing, appreciating people while they are still here if you can is even better. I need reminders to do that more. Seeing a collage invitation for the show excited me. Collage and mixed media are near and dear to my heart (and one of my major muses) because of the way that actual found objects and papers can give another dimension to projects that brand new materials just can’t do sometimes.
I spoke to Marley briefly at the opening and expressed my appreciation for the collage, found objects and re-purposed materials used in the show. While some of the pieces in the show are actual collages or include some collage elements, each wall in the installation was itself a masterful assemblage that together created a kind of collage room. You could also think of it as a scrapbook that you can walk into. Artwork was combined with snapshots, many with captions written either on them or on the wall. The walls became a “journaling space” like you would see in a scrapbook or art journal. The black walls of the gallery space, some light gray painted frames at regular intervals, white text and “Polaroid” style photo margins in the exhibit were perfect neutral foils for the highly saturated colors in the artworks themselves. While viewing I soon realized the skill and design ability it takes to create an installation of joyful harmony when there is so much going on with colors, materials and textures.
Marley told me that Pop Art is one of her influences. I learned on the Oxygen web site that Marley Billie D was on a show called “Street Art Throwdown”. You could consider Street Art in the Pop Art category because it’s a populist form of art, and sometimes there is Pop Art subject matter incorporated into it. Marley told me that some of the Pop Art influences came out in her work in the “dot gain” pattern she likes to use in some pieces, used prominently by some well known Pop artists like one of Marley’s inspirations, Roy Lichtenstein. There is torn away corrugated cardboard also, which whether consciously or not helps me see the Pop Art influence. Cardboard cartons are a form of advertising re-created by another influence Andy Warhol in his Brillo boxes piece. The textures made by corrugated cardboard also look great combined with the dot gain pattern, both visually and thematically.
To my eye, there is also Pop Art influence in the saturated color schemes and the creative re-use of materials. There appear to be things like old wood, recycled frames and old wall decor blended in many of the pieces. The “cheesy” kind of wall art many of us remember growing up with could be considered a form of Pop Art. They are cozy, familiar, homey objects that remind many of us of happy family times from the past. Some of these discarded items from other people’s families can be found in alleyways and thrift stores, and while hunting and dumpster diving you might also find cardboard and product packaging. Very fitting to blend such materials with the retro and populist sub-contexts of the show. Also an example of how you can use kitsch to make art that is decidedly NOT kitsch.
You can understand by what I have written above why I had a strong personal reaction to this show. To explain further, the huge blue spoon and fork seen on the wall in my photo are perhaps examples of those objects that for some artists can become powerful symbols that appear repeatedly in an artists’ body of work. Sometimes the audience knows right away what the symbols mean, in other instances they are part of a more private language that the artist uses. Giant wall utensils also appear in one of Marley’s paintings – see it here on her Instagram account. I grew up in a house with several painted plaster ornaments decorated by my Mom, myself and my brother. For example my Mom “antiqued” a giant wall set that included fork, spoon and ladle, and displayed plastic grapes in the ladle part of it! I can relate intensely to this symbol. I think what Marley did in painting either the actual objects from the painting or objects like them dark blue and including them on this wall is a masterstroke, both in color choice and concept. The feelings they might evoke in someone who grew up surrounded by similar objects are powerful. They are also good examples of Pop Art because of their kitsch appeal, large size, bold colors and celebration of ordinary household objects, all characteristics that help signal the Pop Art genre. To add yet another level of meaning, utensils are associated with Thanksgiving, a ritual that involves food and family, is coming up in two days, and probably had something to do with the timing of this show.
I’m thankful for all the people who had something to do with forming my character and creativity as I have lived life. And I am thankful for Marley’s show for inspiring me and reminding me what I owe to others.
I mentioned Pop Art subject matter above when I explained how Pop Art often celebrates objects that “ordinary” people use and encounter in their daily lives. A hamburger is one of the quintessential and ubiquitous American foods, and pop artist Claes Oldenburg was one of many pop artists who have celebrated the hamburger when he made his famous giant soft hamburger sculpture. The chain restaurants that feature objects on the walls evocative of the chosen restaurant theme could be considered a form of Pop Art as well. I don’t know a lot about the industry that supplies these objects, but I would like to! Some restaurants appear to use reproductions and/or vintage and antique objects to help create the desired atmosphere. It is very fitting that the new Red Robin restaurant in Richmond Heights, Missouri is decorated with colorful and engaging Pop Art. At least some of it appears to be specially commissioned work. I went to eat there because some of my friends were checking it out and I wanted to socialize with them (see photo). The art work was a special treat that I did not expect. Basically they turned the dining area into a giant Pop Art installation. There was even a hamburger hassock! The graphic below is a montage of some of my favorite pieces. Enjoy while contemplating an art form that originated as commentary on commercialism being shamelessly used as advertising! And very appealing advertising if you ask me…