“Looking Down from Above.” Ken Solomon, 2013. Pencil and watercolor on paperboard. 2 panels, 7.5 x 11.75.
The installation features 60 individual panels, each the size of an iPad screen, illustrating Google Earth images of the Port of Newark.
Carroll Gardens painter Ken Solomon will surprise you with his solo show of new work at the Josée Bienvenu Gallery in Chelsea.
Not with what Solomon paints – iPhone screens, Google searches, Apple’s powering-off image — those little lines running around in a circle while we wait. Images we run away from as quickly as we approach.
The surprise is in the elegance, the drama, of these images when Solomon transforms them into watercolor paintings.
There’s something refreshing about the artistry Solomon brings to the everyday images of our device-obsessed lives, a painterly quality in the brushstrokes used to depict such scenes as what a computer looks like during a Google search for The Beatles album, A Hard Days Night.
The show, Running to Stand Still, takes the functional, momentary digital world and transforms it to still life.
When you enter the show, you’ll first notice a stunning wall installation featuring 60 panels in five parts detailing Google Earth images of the vast industrial container parking lots of Port Newark, at Newark Airport. The detail and accidental design of the containers in orange, gray and blue, seen from high above, is visually arresting.
“Seeing Double.” Ken Solomon, 2013.
Ken Solomon, 2013. “Google Portrait” of a search for painter Mondrian.
And then there’s the Pandora piece. Covering a long wall and wrapping to another is 100 panels in two rows of Pandora screens featuring six hours of music: 100 album covers, the exact size they appear on the iPhone.
The Pandora piece begins with Start Me Up, the painted screen showing the device at full power, and ends with This is My Last Affair, as the battery runs out.
Solomon says the piece is autobiographical – a snapshot of where the artist is at a certain moment in time. The work creates a poem — the last word of each album title links to the first word of the next, creating a lovely poem. Here is a snippet from the run-on verse:
“Come on the Run For Your Life During War Time is Running Out of Time Waits For No One and Only the Good Die Young…”
I asked Solomon if it was hard to paint such tiny images of the album covers.
“A lot of people talk about a steady hand and a tiny brush, I think it comes down to the power of observation. I don’t need a tiny brush. I just need to see. I’m sort of transcribing, using references, it’s really a matter of focus and concentration. The more locked in I am, the things that look very detailed are fairly simple.”
Solomon started off as a painter creating serious figurative oil works, and then moved on to an experimental performance project in the ’90s, when he spent “years and years” putting up flyers looking for people to wear his natty old wig in his Williamsburg apartment. He photographed the willing subjects, an effort he dubbed The Wig Project, and which was chronicled in the New York Times.
There’s something very Warholian about Solomon’s work – the repetition, the taking of banal objects (in Warhol’s case, soup cans, images of Marilyn Monroe), painting them in repetition and elevating them to works of art, in Solomon’s words describing his own painting, “fossilizing disposable things.”
Google images, Pandora screens, “these are all functional. They are tools. They are visual,” Solomon says. “I eliminate the functionality and slow it down to paint it.”
And indeed, the works, though they show just about everything you see on your computer screen, are not attempting to achieve photo-realism. In contrast, they are quite painterly. There’s something fun about admiring watercolor brushstrokes used to paint the ever-present blue framing of Google land.
“A lot of it is about the painting process,” Solomon says. “I can’t think about a better subject than information speed, and information on the web” juxtaposed with “the slow process of painting.”
How’d he pick this subject matter?
“I found myself on my computer, on Google images, thinking about imagery,” Solomon says. “I call them Google portraits. I think of it as portraiture.”
Solomon says he was flying out of Newark Airport and noticed the vast container lots of Port of Newark. When he arrived at his destination and looked on Google Earth, and saw the endless expanse, “I thought it was the most mystical, magical thing ever,” Solomon says.
“What I tackled is one hair on the armpit. You could spend a lifetime painting this,” Solomon says. “You can paint a rock, a flower, you can paint anything. “If you paint it well, it’s cool.”
Move quickly people to check out this show. Open through Friday, May 24.
Josée Bienvenu Gallery
529 West 20th Street
New York, NY 10011
Tel 212 206 7990
Fax 212 206 7990