In Carry On, the new exhibition at Eighth Veil gallery in Los Angeles, New York-based artists Wes Lang and Ryan Schneider rely conspicuously on language, using it in turn as graffiti, physiological subtext, colloquialism, confession and command. Whether it’s 1970s slogans scrawled on canvas; collages in which blotted-out words on a magazine page form new sentences; self-portraits with words floating on the paint’s surface; or representations of street graffiti — a framed Polaroid with the inscription “I Love the Dead” spray-painted in black against a brick wall — the play with text is rampant.
Lang’s work often contorts slogans of the late sixties and early seventies: bumper sticker-worthy irreverences, borrowed from recognizable political phrases from the 60s, are transformed into a grab-bag of advertising, drug culture, pornography, rock and roll lyrics and self-expression (“If it Feels Good Do it”). Lang couples these slogans with familiar imagery, much of it reinterpretations of classic icons: a yellow happy face, Harley Davidson insignia, grim reaper, pot leaf, etc.
On a large canvas, anchored around a Grateful Dead red rose with a penis sprouting from its center, he fills the space to its brim (in a collage reminiscent slightly of a page in a sticker album) with images of Snoopy and R. Crumb cartoons above slogans like “Down With Brown” and “Keep Chooglin.”
The sheer volume of collected sayings and redrawn images gives the viewer a sense of a psychedelic repository; if the slogans and cartoons of the seventies were rooted in the Western consciousness as much as those of the Bible, Lang’s collage would share something of the frenzy and epic quality of a Hieronymus Bosch painting of hell — depicting just how disturbing, when gathered all together, these historical motifs can be.
In other work, it’s David Crosby who serves as the main apostle instead of Jesus. The drawings of the rock star are beautifully and intricately rendered; he is cast as both laid back boho and, in another drawing, a surly biker dude with the Merle Haggard lyric, “You’re Walking on the Fightin’ Side of Me,” framing his face.
Another type of cultural cross-referencing is invoked in the minimal, “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times.” Titled after a Beach Boys song, the painting bears only the words “Deja Vu,” written in black across the right hand side of the canvas, signaling the famous Crosby, Stills and Nash tune and as well stating the obvious— once you’ve read the words, you’ve already seen the painting.
As counterpoint, Ryan Schneider uses text in a more contemplative way. In his drawings, words appear almost like an inner monologues turned outward, fleeting thoughts captured on the canvas. It’s not surprising that Schneider is also a published poet as well as a visual artist.
The works shown have an intimate, narrative thread and revolve around pencil drawings and vibrantly colored oil paintings of recurring figures and landscapes such as a man, a woman, a mountain, water and trees. The words serve as highlights of complexity atop a deceivingly simpler surface; Schneider brings together eternal archetypes with ephemeral acts of speech and thought, exploring his power as artist to meld the two inextricably.
In a pencil drawing of birch trees with weird utterances seemingly carved into them into, (“Hey Liars,” “Here Lies Us Here,” Yo Dad”) there is a point where the line “Turn this Off” carries over past the edge of a tree, into the foreground, floating in space. Drawings of a woman in a shower contain volumes of text piled up on all sides of the curtain and bathroom tile, flowing out across her body.
The concern seems to be poetic rather than formal. What these words are (her confessions to the viewer? the artist’s?) or who is being assigned them is not explicit but that does not stop them from resonating deeply. Perhaps the moment of her bathing is imagined as chance for her to wash off some residual pondering. In one of the shower drawings, the two opposite columns read from left to right, across at the bottom, “It’s ok, get clean now.”
Image by Wes Lang, courtesy Eighth Veil.