As an obsessive observer of Atlanta's underground art scene and a loyal fan of Foundation One Studios, I felt it necessary to respond to Creative Loafing's review of Foundation One's latest show "Between the Lines." Felicia Feaster has always provided excellent commentary on the art world and her views often reflect my own. That is why I found it so interesting that I could disagree with her at nearly every turn in her response to the show.
Her descriptions of the work are dead on, and very well versed:
"[Zack] Johnsen's work seems very much a product of the artist's New York reality and city life's claustrophobia. His work can be incredibly misanthropic, though that misanthropy can range from disgust at humanity's moral failings to a sadder, defeated anguish. He paints, draws and has created an installation piece in wood for the show, but it doesn't take long to figure out that Johnsen's greatest interest and skill lies in his watercolor and pen-and-ink drawings." And then we start to disagree.
"There is a tension in the work between the immaturity of many of those Star Wars cantina-style forms and the maturity of Johnsen's social commentary." Perhaps, but I don't find this as so much of a downfall as just a result of his style, which I believe is quite compatible with his content.
"...you get the sense that some of Johnsen's more cartoony shapes, with their one-note monstrosity, are holding him back, catching him up in a gimmicky expression of worldly vice and squalor." I don't read his work as gimmicky at all. His loose, figurative technique shows more talent than style and narrates as if illustrating a cynical, state of the world children's book.
Charlie Owens, a local artist (Johnsen is from Brooklyn), receives even less praise. Again, the descriptions are excellent:
"...so entrenched in his own graphic obsessions that he can feel like the 2007, skate-culture answer to the babe-obsessed Patrick Nagel." Good call. But then Felicia goes on to say:
"Owens' primary obsessions are street-savvy vixens, many executed on skateboard decks with come-hither almond eyes, bared navels, tattoos and skull belt buckles. In contrast, his big-eyed, stout, Sunday-funnies-style men are lumpy losers." I will agree that the majority of his work seems a bit formulaic, but I would shy away from using three forms of the word obsession over the course of two sentences. Slick depictions of Suicide Girls along with paint splatter on skate deck canvases may describe nearly half of his pieces. But then his style overflows onto a large scale installation including a table and chair set and oversized cut-outs. And she fails to mention the dripping paint, gun to the head masterpiece, my pick for the show.
"Owens could stand to get something wittier and more self-aware into his mix of sex and violence." I like to compare Charlie Owens' work to a good action movie. It may appear to be mostly style, but its taken to a place where the aesthetics are all that matter. The images are presented with a comfortable creativity, and such commitment that it makes for a very exciting ride. Its the kind of movie that I love if I'm seeing it for the first time, but would only want to see the sequel if it brought in some new themes and fresh imagery.
I take back what I said about the use of the word obsession, but I do think that in the art world, obsession is usually good. As for one other comment in the review:
"Foundation's latest, Between the Lines, therefore is a bit of a disappointment for an art space whose last show, of local artists John Tindel and Michi, was a great, pulled-together and visually compelling installation of that much-exhibited artist team's work. You can't swing a cat in Atlanta without hitting either Tindel or Michi, but La Calaveras Pop showed they still had some surprises in store and could bring a polish to their artistic collaborations that hasn't always been on display." I couldn't agree less. The last show was more of the same from TindelMichi. While I think that the majority of their work is flawlessly composed, I felt like "La Calaveras Pop" was a rerun. Foundation One has always blown me away with its creativity and surprises, but that was the only show I've seen there without a single surprise. It was good, but not "great, pulled together" or "visually compelling." Especially not compared to the current show, "Between the Lines."