What better day to stage Simply The Worst, Neck Face’s latest gallery show at New Image Art Gallery than on Friday the 13? All the grotesque horror and raucous but ultimately gleeful gore of the Friday the 13th series of films, as well as other seminal horror cult classics of that generation like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween, hover in the tangle of art, media and pop references that Neck Face draws on to “compose” his “art.” I use the scare quotes, not because I intend to explore the facile line of questioning as to whether Neck Face’s work is art (it clearly is) nor whether his pieces are composed in the traditional sense (again, both his 2D renderings and 3D installations are quite carefully composed), but instead, to insinuate a question about just what exactly it means for Neck Face rather than, say, Francis Bacon, Pushead, an agitprop pamphleteer or William Blake (to pick four other visual artists who, for me at least, resonate to some degree with Necky) to compose a piece of art. (Anyone could take serious issue, with any of the above four visual contact points, although I think a case can be made for each).
Simply The Worst, Neck Face’s recent print release opening at Marsea Goldberg’s space, had all the elements that we’ve come to expect from the Neck that is, also, simultaneously, a Face. The West Hollywood crowd got horror (in some form or another), a post-graffiti approach to art that includes, in this show at least, graffiti as a tool to differentiate between various otherwise identical prints of N.F.’s own work in addition to link them together in a installation that was for the most part, woven from spray paint. Gallery attendees were also served a healthy portion of Neck Face’s key technique: a juxtaposition of a bold image and a snippet of slogan-like text, the image often unruly and demonic, the text often reading like intentionally vapid depoliticized agitprop (if you could hold the oxymoron together in your head long enough to cogitate on it, it makes sense). Neck Face has stated on the record that he’s in this art hustle to put a smile on someone’s face but at that same decisive moment make the person question whether it is (morally, politically, culturally) correct for he or she to be grinning. This is Neck Face’s mission and the juxtaposition of black metal imagery and silver tongue is the key aesthetic weapon in N.F.’s arsenal. In one of the prints for sale: Not One Fuck Will Be Givin, Neck Face pairs the memorable phrase, and it’s faux-jaunty elevated diction, with the image of what appears to be a demon in some corduroy OP shorts urinating and flicking off a freshly dug grave. Here perhaps the agitprop might not even be diluted, as the urinating hellion, is basically expressing the same general sentiment as Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener, when Bartleby declares, “I would prefer not to.”
The show was centered on the unveiling of Neck Face’s new prints. They are limited edition, only 100 numbered pieces of each of the Not One Fuck Will Be Givin and Bad Luck, No Luck prints were made. The silkscreened prints were hung amidst Neck Face’s macabre graff, punctuating the visual jostle of 666s, monster hands, pentagrams and Sace RIPs. He wove a bramble of his characteristic graff across the gallery walls and then hung framed prints amidst the chaos. The six-color hand-pulled screen prints come on Coventry Rag 100% cotton archival paper and are signed by the artist. Prints are available at New Image, but for Neck fanatics not in Los Angeles, the interactive gallery Poster Child Prints, specialists in fine art screen and giclee prints, are also selling them (accompanied by official Certificates of Authenticity… yes, for real).
Neck Face has stated that his work is intended to put a smile on the faces of those passing by one of his pieces, usually with a combination of his trademark “non-technique as technique” aerosol renderings of hands, bats and demonic faces all executed with a childlike, scrawling, visual naïveté and usually paired with a line or two of obtrusive text (e.g. “Obese Women,” “Eat Your Baby” or “Beat Your Kids”). In each of these harsh, coarse executions, Neck Face, evokes, wittingly or unwittingly: the discourse on body image problems among females, hunger and domestic violence. His drawings only make the statements more visceral. Sometimes Neck Face’s self-effacing demeanor and rapid execution make it hard to tell what he’s thinking about himself: dusty schoolyard wisecracks or subtle agitation? Perhaps it’s the blend of the comic and sinister that makes it work?
In a recent video interview (Neckface VS. Epicly Later’d) Neck Face commented, “My real face is my mask.” He fondled a bright orange bat mask that allowed him his coveted anonymity. But perhaps there’s a bit more truth to this than a first pass suggests. Hiding behind a façade of playful blood and gore, there is an artist interested in creating tiny crass social experiments; because he can. He also playfully compares his aesthetic to doorbell ditching and kicking trashcans over, refreshing in a contemporary artistic community that often finds artists groping for profundity or trying to find just the right art-historical lineage to attach themselves to. Rather than look for referents in the visual arts he seems more comfortable comparing his influences to aural referents such as King Diamond, the acclaimed Danish metal musician. In fact, many of Neck Face’s glyphs can be viewed as an occasionally goofy, graphic-laden, black metal posture, penned in playfully executed cartoon-like scratches on the urban landscape complete with taglines and catchphrases. In this way it is more post-graffiti than tagging or “bombing” in the traditional sense. His graff and 3D work in the gallery have consisted of a pastiche culled from the sounds and iconography of black metal, horror video visual language, papier-mâché bat heads, crude remarks, sly winks at the viewer and layers upon layers of graffiti. This last element is interesting in that his graff-like markings are used for different purposes in various parts of the gallery, they are context sensitive: here they add satanic texture to a wall, here they link up and tie together two framed prints and finally, here, by drawing on the individual prints themselves, they differentiate a limited edition set of 100 prints into 100 unique pieces of art. When Neck Face adds the additional textual layer of an Angry Samoans (lights out!) or Motörhead lyric (ace of spades!), literally graffitied onto his own work by himself he finds his own graffiti art vandalized but… (and in the process N.F. brings up the marginally interesting question of whether a visual artist can vandalize his or her own work?).
What appears as a lack of technique to those unfamiliar with the entire body of Neck Face’s work is actually more nuanced than one might surmise on the first pass. I challenge anyone to replicate one of his iconic bats on a napkin, it’s not as easy as one might think. Perhaps the result of his years at NYC’s School of Visual Art or perhaps a devotion to the Pushead school of skateboard graphics (N.F. is an avid skater) lead to his idiosyncratic illustration skills.
So we’ve covered an agitprop pamphleteer and Pushead, now for the hard ones: Francis Bacon and William Blake. For Bacon all I’ll say is that Freddy, Jason and Pushead got nothing on the nuanced horror of Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1953. As for Blake, aside from the obvious pairing of image and text, and that they are both class conscious, there is the turn back to the oxymoronic. It might be best to end with one of Blake’s more famous oxymorons: “Marriage hearse.” If that doesn’t sound like the slogan for the next set of Neck Face’s paint splattered walls, I can see it now: two coffins, two demons and one lowered hearse on 22s (political import courtesy of the original author).