civilized adults

Ed McGowin

April 30 – May 21 2016

McGowin works the higher ground where everyday social misconduct merges with larger questions of evil...behind this grim view of humanity resides McGowin's sturdy wit. The figures often have the bitter humor of the grotesque, like caricatures that both bite and amuse in their blackness."

—Richard Huntington

Between 1970 and 1972, American artist Ed McGowin (b. 1938) changed his name a dozen times and has been creating works of art for his twelve selves ever since. The Name Change project began as a way for McGowin to explore a theory he had about the way art history would evolve. He writes, “I developed this theory as a means of freeing myself from a system that I found frustrating as a young artist at the beginning of my career: that my work should develop as a linear chain-link model with each creation leading logically to the next. Instead, I preferred to envision my work as a three-dimensional sphere getting larger over time.” As McGowin has continued to produce paintings, sculpture, installations, and a range of mixed media work under each moniker for the past 45 years, his twelve artists have varied widely in their own careers: McDuff, one of the twelve, is long deceased, while Thorton Modestus Dossett has built up an impressive CV, exhibiting at numerous galleries and institutions. For his show at the harts gallery, McGowin presents the work of four artists: Euri Ignatius Everpure, Nicholas Gregory Nazianzen, Thorton Modestus Dossett and Ingram Andrew Young. Aesthetically and conceptually expansive, they share in common a Southern sensibility, rooted in McGowin’s own upbringing in Mississippi and Alabama, as well as the influence of folk art and outsider art from around the world, shaped by McGowin’s travels to more than one hundred countries. Layers of stark social commentary are woven throughout, imbued with generous servings of humor, irony and absurdity.

Euri Ignatius Everpure is a cabinet maker who is generally disliked by those people who deal with him. Considered to be capable but insensitive because of the arrogance he has developed as a product of his small mind and limited vision while learning one craft extremely well.

Indeed, Everpure is extremely good at creating figurative sculptures that swing open to display hidden contexts and compositions inside of them. Much like the cabinets he makes at his day job, Everpure’s sculptures both conceal and reveal, displaying a complexity about characters and making possible multiple interpretations of the same scene. Narratively inspired by the archetypes of Southern lore, they are aesthetically linked to the lime wood carvings from Inquisition Spain, where Christian imagery opened to reveal hidden iconography that would have been punishable by death.

Nicholas Gregory Nazianzen is a homosexual father of four who was blackmailed into amputating three fingers off his own right hand. He works as a conductor on the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit (B.M.T.); sees his life correctly as a series of dreary round trips.

For Nazianzen, McGowin was interested in creating frames that have a conversation with the work they hold, as a way to make the viewer relate the two aspects of the work and form a complete narrative. While he insists that the artist’s bio is incidental to the work, one can’t help but wonder if Nazianzen’s dark sensitivity and clear-cut social critiques aren’t a result of the lives he witnesses while working, and the unfulfilled life he sees himself living.

Thorton Modestus Dossett: At thirty four years old, is a full time front-end loader operator at the American Sand and Gravel Co. His fascination is to sit and stare at piles of sand until his focal and peripheral visions are balanced, which sets him into a trance.

Visually reminiscent of African American folk art, Dossett is an artist trying to reconcile the two races of the South, his work being a series of lifelines both isolated and intertwining. His art tells the stories of two races coming togther, both badly damaged psyches: one defeated and occupied, the other enslaved. It shows the horrific (in Till, the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till) and celebrates the wonderful (In Richard-Lewis, Fathers of Rock n’ Roll Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis). But it’s the suffering caused by those two psyches thrown together, and forced to work out some way of living together, that permeates Dossett’s work.

Ingram Andrew Young is a musician who has produced one record album to date. Has a wife and two daughters. At the age of four one of the girls asks, “When was my first lasterday?” A moment which struck Young as larger than life and eventually became the well spring for his music. Formerly thin and to the point but after several years of domesticity he has rounded out to find undreamed philosopies.

Young’s is very much a Southern worldview, shaped by absurdity, irony and the grotesque. His sculpture figures are literal depictions of clichés (Look before you leap, The pen is mightier than the sword), while his airbrush paintings of cakes floating in middair and dogs, chairs and chaises in front of mirrors, land somewhere between magical, surreal and disturbing.

Perhaps we should turn back to the creator of it all, to better understand each artist and their manifold expressions, paranoias, passions and complexities. “My art is derived from my roots; not only the narrative, but also the conceptual art…both come from that ironic culture. It comes out of that mix of being born into a society that was defeated and occupied, and that was married to a society and culture that was enslaved. And it comes from all that boiling around. That is what I am interested in, as an artist.” Despite the clear connection he draws between his own life and the work of his twelve artists, or perhaps ironically (of course!) in spite of it, McGowin also writes of the value of his own life being seen as separate: “The different identities under which I made this art may allow for a broader approach to receiving these images, without tying them to past history or future expectations.” Maybe if we stop and stare at them until our focal and peripheral visions are balanced, set into a trance, our perspectives will also change.

 

A Mississippi native, Ed McGowin has been exhibiting his work throughout the United States and internationally since 1962. His work is in the permanent collections of numerous public and private institutions, including the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; the Phillips Collection; the National Museum of American Art; and Kunstmuseet, Lund, Sweden. McGowin has had more than eighty solo exhibitions, including the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. He has also participated in several hundred group exhibitions. McGowin has completed numerous public commissions throughout the United States. Professor Emeritus and former Chairman of the Fine Arts Department at SUNY Old Westbury, he currently lives and works in New York and Connecticut.