Jeffrey Vallance: Prescient Politically Charged Art
By Genie Davis
Through December 31st
Now at Edward Cella Art & Architecture through December 31st, Jeffrey Vallance: Now More Than Ever is a tour de force into the mind and art of the Los Angles-based artist.
The exhibition is inclusive, featuring mixed media drawings and sculpture, works that bend form and burrow beneath it. This show delves into his layered, edgy drawing style, mixing the incongruous with the profound, pop and political culture with perfectly wrought realistic images.
“There’s a new, denser, energetic drawing style here,” Edward Cella explains. “It comes out of what the artist calls chicken scratches. He just starts drawing and images develop.”
This organic, intuitive style leads to works that require contemplation; central images and fragmented smaller images, lines and forms that have their own unique iconography.
“He has always been fascinated with political campaigns and with absorbing popular culture which has animated his work over time,” Cella relates.
In the center of the main gallery stands what the exhibition refers to as a Monolith: a series of towering drawers, each containing a wide variety of Vallance’s work. A moveable step-ladder allows viewers to climb to the top and open each drawer successively for an immersive look into the artist’s oeuvre.
“The Monolith is 100 inches high and contains 100 drawings. It’s an archive collection of his 40 years of work,” Cella says. “The drawings represent different periods and different subjects that fascinate him: dreams, play, and work.”
Some of the drawings are simple, fluid, almost cartoon-like, others resemble hieroglyphics.
“His new works are all much denser,” Cella adds.
They are indeed. There is the photo-realistic self-portrait of Vallance, the central image in “Vallance Now,” which is surrounded by his cyclonic chicken scratch lines, political stickers that read “Jeffrey Vallance – Now More Than Ever,” and “Right Now – Jeffrey Vallance,” smaller self portraits, a prehistoric-looking fish, what could be the image of an x-ray. Working in mixed media on paper with stickers and printed paper collage, this work is the focal point of the exhibition, encompassing the artist’s realism, as well as his cartoon-like images, and scrawled calligraphy. The work is not just stylistically dense, it is psychically dense, too.
Is Vallance positing himself as a political candidate? Revealing the superficial in public personas? Suggesting that we, as a nation, as an audience, as bystanders, simply purchase an advertising campaign, a brand? What brand does Vallance himself represent? His self-portrait is thoughtful, wise; yet elements of the surreal surround the central drawing. The political stickers and even the artist’s hairstyle seem like throwbacks to an earlier more idealistic era such as the late 1960s.
Vallance’s “I Saw a UFO Over Vegas” is a very different mixed media work, although also one which encompasses pop culture images in the printed paper collage. A portion of the Caesar’s Palace hotel logo, and signage for McCarren Airport are strewn in the background. The central image, literally appearing splashed over the lines, squiggles, and patterns that Vallance draws, is a white line, dripping paint tentacles into a beautifully realistic black silhouette of the Las Vegas skyline. At one end of that skyline, the Stratosphere rises untouched, other iconic structures are subsumed by the white paint.
Vallance based the work on a real experience he had driving Highway 515 after teaching a drawing class at the College of Southern Nevada. According to the artist, “When I glanced toward McCarran Airport, I saw something unaccountable hovering over it. To me, it looked like an immense triangular white paper airplane with sharp corners.” Listening to a radio talk show later that day, he heard others describing what he had seen, and revealing they’d phoned airport security only to be told there was nothing there. Vallance manages to capture both the surreal image of the UFO as he perceived it himself, and the idea that it could be viewed as illusion – in the same way that Caesar’s and McCarren Airport could also be illusions. Who is to say what is real and what is not? The object’s depiction is vast, minimizing the city skyline. It is beyond our comprehension, like so much of existence, Vallance seems to say, no matter how much we try to put a label on who we are and what we are.
Speaking of labels, there is “Solid Eye,” here drawn as a record label on an album, with an eye in the center instead of a stereo spindle. Chinese characters stand above it and to the side, and other random eyes are scattered throughout the lines and curls Vallance has drawn as a background. Vallance explains that in 1980, the Solid Eye logo was designed and used for a record label two years later. When the label folded, the name was passed on to a musical ensemble, then used for a skate board company, a movie studio, and Japanese virtual-vision technology among other companies. The name now represents a generic term in the garment industry, denoting eyeball patterns on clothing and sneakers. Beyond this factual history of the eye, there is a mythical quality; the eye here is off center, gazing to the right. Political projection? Wary side-long glance at the iconic image’s use? A viewer is apt to feel watched, searching the room as the eye itself appears to be doing.
Look, too, at “Kittens in a Basket,” in which the central, somewhat hopeful, somewhat intense cat image is surrounded by line patterns that could be flying fur or the blur of other cat whiskers. A tiny cat on the upper left of the image gives play to the idea that more kittens could emerge from this “basket” of lines. The idea for the piece comes from Vallance’s friend Mike Kelly, who when in a dark mood would exclaim “Kittens in a basket,” in order to cheer himself up with a happy image. Vallance has created a piece here which both illuminates the dark place his friend was attempting to shake off and the could-be-cute image of a cat.
Darkness, light, line, form, and representative shape – all are a part of this truly absorbing exhibition. Coupled with the historic perspective on the artist’s work in the storage drawers a.k.a. the “Monolith,” this is a truly memorable show. It resonates with viewers, encouraging them to imagine their own shapes, labels, and creatures as they emerge from the static of their own inner vision.