Monday, December 16, 2019

Reverb: The Physical Poetry of James Verbicky

Monetaire 26,  2019, mixed media, collage and resin on canvas. (Jennifer Kostuik Gallery)

Jennifer Kostuik Gallery, Vancouver,
September 20 – October 30, 2019

Some paintings seem to reveal themselves to us through the secret language of visual music; so it is with the palpable presence conducting vital energies through the canvases of James Verbicky. Originally from Edmonton, the now California-based Verbicky has absorbed multiple West Coast surf and music cultural influences into his art over the years. One of the many ironies reflected and refracted in his work is also his extensive experience as a DJ, which resonates visually via the overlapping and intersecting visual ‘tracks’ he utilizes in the construction of his profoundly complex image structures. By recycling linguistic and logo samples and transforming them into a visual field, he also simulates the curious vertigo of those dynamic optical operas that are all around us.

At the Kostuik Gallery in Vancouver, Verbicky presented his Citta Samtana series, featuring mixed media from vintage magazines, paint, resin and the artist's own script to comprise obscure advertising for unknown products, and Canessonten or “skull” paintings – works with three-dimensional surfaces that transcend traditional painting and venture into the realm of sculpture, utilizing vintage media, graphics, public relations and obsolete branding materials. Debuting as well were Verbicky’s new Bhavanga Series, recreating the impact of larg-scale wall murals or billboards onto canvas, and employing hand-painted and stenciled techniques that include the subtle use of crystalina (diamond dust) in between the almost musical movements of his signature horizontal bands.

Monetaire 26, detail. (Jennifer Kostuik Gallery)

Every part of a painted construction by Verbicky is echoed by every other part, not literally as in a mirror image, but rather as in a reverberation, the kind that most often occurs in musical experiences. You can almost hear the murmurings of meaning in his radical depictions of the optical unconscious. In between the known and unknown, he paints intense and deep-immersive images of the windows of perception, with a particular emphasis on the information deluge of commerce and its emblems: both money and its shadow kingdom, capital. Though of course they are paintings, I call his works images due to the momentum he builds up within his tightly choreographed plunges into visual data, often linguistic and graphic in nature, in a sustained crescendo of sorts which never concludes.
The masterful “Citta Samtana Diptych” series, in both its light and dark versions, as well as the seductive “Bhavanga” group of pictures, are all compelling spiritual entertainments. Again comprising assemblage, bricolage, and classical collage employing highly stylized layers, they are methodically executed and have a curious meditational aspect, through their obvious affinity for the secular religion of promotion and commerce. The artist has conveyed his intentions for deploying these subtle embodied meanings quite clearly: "The media paintings bridge the gap between sculpture and painting by binding fragments of vintage media to one another, double-exposing language and image and melting them in upon themselves. By unearthing and layering the remnants of dozens of decades of disparate generations, the media paintings transcend simple words and images and become objects containing the essence of human culture."

Indeed, it is for that salient reason that he strikes me as being both a masterful neo-pop artist and a gifted interpreter of the neo-baroque culture we currently occupy, this vertiginous electronic world in which an all-consuming and perpetually recursive spectacle has become the fabula, or story, of our daily lives. In a subtle sort of way, they are virtual ads for the ironic soap opera we have come to emobdy in the 21st Century.

Citta Samtana, 2018, mixed media collage and resin on canvas. (Jennifer Kostuik Gallery)

These are paintings with a high degree of statistical density: first the retina swoons slightly, then it submits to a mesmerizing awareness of the act of seeing (and reading) and then finally it submits to the sheer sensual splendour of it all. It was a treat indeed to stand beneath his waterfall of words and pictures in their dynamic dance together and to experience what we could either call three-dimensional paintings or two-dimensional sculptures, or both. Highly retinal in tone, he doesn’t so much depict what is seen by looking through his perceptual windows but rather what we experience internally by looking at them, thus permitting us to be witnesses to the act of accumulating layers of meaning via the visual information itself accruing almost organically. I say almost, since there are few actual organic elements to his fabrications, apart from the practically operatic end result that ensues.

By doing so, he also engages our imaginations at a physical level, at the foundational and entrancing level of what feels like a fabulous dream state; but dreaming with our eyes wide open as we embrace and are entranced by his fabula, or visual narrative. Verbicky’s sumptuous paintings plumb the depths of our media-saturated domain of simultaneous imagery and rapidly reveal themselves to be visual verbs, virtually pulsing with alluring and hypnotic data formations. His seductively layered images amount to a veritable archaeology of the aura we most often associate with an emotional distance in proximity to the inexpressible. This so-called aura, a mysterious vibration of sorts which usually suggests an utter uniqueness beyond reproduction, is being most effectively explored, ironically, in the ultimately reproduced item of social exchange: money. In Monetaire 26, from 2019, for instance, the painter reminds us that originally all currency plates were images designed by graphic artists and painters whose work was largely anonymous.

By examining this anonymous image-archive so artfully and poetically, this painter is thus also an archaeologist of the spectacle of social space itself: the exotic ways in which value is attributed to scarcity.

Bhavanga 9, 2019, mixed media collage and resin on canvas. (Jennifer Kostuik Gallery)

I’m resisting calling them tapestries, only because that tradition doesn’t do them full justice; however, there is indeed a warp and woof to his horizontally paneled equations of form and content, especially in the money pictures. As he expresses it, “I seek out rare currencies. The process is very interesting: going through old collections, finding bills from 80-100 years ago. Treasured pieces are sought out, collected, and meticulously preserved. It’s so strange to hold paper relics from countries and regimes that no longer exist, and imagine pockets they have traveled in. Sometimes I imagine collectors of the monetary pieces, now dead, might hate me for cutting up their prizes, but what is a better home for them? Shuttered away in binders and libraries, or in a painting, where they can be truly seen for all the beauty they possess?"

As opulent as their overall effect is, it isn’t until approaching them at an intimate distance of inches that the viewer begins to realize that each bill was, of course, designed or illustrated as an artwork in its own right whose aesthetic impact has been all but abstracted infinitely, neutralized through commercial daily use. Their astute appropriation in this manner is a collaged gesture of appreciation as well as a curious kind of alchemy.

Donald Brackett is a Vancouver-based popular culture journalist and curator who writes about music, art and films.He is the author of the book Back to Black: Amy Winehouse’s Only Masterpiece (Backbeat Books, 2016). In addition to numerous essays, articles and radio broadcasts, he is also the author of two books on creative collaboration in pop music: Fleetwood Mac: 40 Years of Creative Chaos, 2007, and Dark Mirror: The Pathology of the Singer-Songwriter, 2008, and is a frequent curator of film programs for Pacific Cinematheque. His latest book is Long Slow Train: The Soul Music of Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings, published in November 2018. His new book, Tumult! The Incredible Life and Music of Tina Turner, is forthcoming from Backbeat Books in 2020.

No comments:

Post a Comment