Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Maria Porges reviews Lou Beach: End of Days at Jack Fischer Gallery’s Minnesota Street Project location in San Francisco.
In Lou Beach: End of Days at Jack Fischer Gallery’s Minnesota Street Project location in San Francisco, a selection of twenty-three recent collages by the artist provides a deeply satisfying experience of the inventive, funny, and sometimes slightly disturbing world of the Los Angeles artist’s unconscious. For many pieces, Beach begins with a patinaed background image: a vintage lithograph of a seaside sunset, a country road in autumn, or, as in Poltroons on Parade (Pigeon! Pigeon! Pigeon!) (2016), a sunny view of ancient Roman buildings. Beach transforms these bland scenes by adding strange and hilarious figures that can be truthfully described as animal, vegetable, and mineral, built out of what must be a massive collection of paper ephemera and then sometimes enhanced with drawing or painting. Titles provide some clues as to the actions taking place, but to a certain extent, it is up to the viewer’s own id and superego to fill in the blanks.
In Poltroons, doggish creatures float or stride across the foreground. The largest wears tiny pink toe shoes and wields six old-fashioned nib pens like spears (perhaps referencing the artist’s long history as an illustrator, though it’s possible that these could be multiple, deity-like arms). The nose and ears of several of Beach’s “poltroons” are a curious, stylized drop-shape, present in other works as well. They function on occasion as a kind of authorial punctuation—something like Richard Artschwager’s blps project (1967–present) and exclamation marks. In Poltroons, these inky black drops also fall from the sky, stand in for conversation balloons, and even function as leaves on skinny Italianate poplars and a feather in a tricorn hat.
In Westward Ho, Oh Wilderness (2016), Beach places his fantastic figures against a plain sheet of paper as he slyly invokes Manifest Destiny in the form of a bearlike creature treading on a snake made out of wagon wheels. Several drops spray outward from the animal and the pastiche “Indians” borne on its back, suggesting movement or excitement. The largest drop, poised above the animal’s maniacally grinning face, contains a man in colonial garb flying a flag or kite. This slightly acerbic political undercurrent is often present in Beach’s collages, in his sharp, smart titles, and in inserted text elements that serve as reminders of his storytelling accomplishments (he is also author of a book of 420-character-long fictions that are often funny and/or surreal). As we enter the end of days, these enchanting works imply, we might as well enjoy the ride. Laughing is so much easier to take than crying, after all.
Lou Beach: End of Days will be on view through September 15, 2016.
For over two decades, Maria Porges’s critical writing has appeared in many publications, including Artforum, Art in America, Sculpture, American Ceramics, Glass, the New York Times Book Review, and a host of now-defunct art magazines. Porges is an Associate Professor at California College of the Arts.