Tripping the Light Phantastic: Travis Louie Phantasmagoria at KP Projects
By Genie Davis
on view through November 4th
Travis Louie’s “Phantasmagoria” now at KP Projects is a solo exhibition timed perfectly to fit the season. With haunting images that could be family portraits – if one’s family were the Adams’ perhaps – Louie creates characters whose lives he’s imagined.
Louie has said that he’s inspired by collected 19th Century photography, German expressionist films, and noir, creating precisely detailed monochromatic works whose subjects are infused with the supernatural, images that reflect a cinematic sensibility and a highly spiritual one.
Long a purveyor of the “phantastical,” his characters have stories to tell, stories culled from the richness of his imagination, from 18th and 19th century theater. While there is a dreamy, other-wordly quality to each of his subjects, Louie also grounds them in an intensely realistic portrayal. The result in a sublime and strange merging of illusion with permanence: the creatures who inhabit a child’s storybook come to life and living next door.
The exhibition’s title is taken from British writer Terry Breverton’s book of the same name, in which the author posits that some people and animals are magical and mysterious. Certainly Louie shares that feeling, as he shapes these beautifully detailed works that have an inner glow of eerie light. These are
describes it as ‘the art of creating supernatural illusions, the gathering of phantoms and fantasies.” According to his 2011 book “Phantasmagoria” – “Some beliefs, places, people and animals are ‘magical’ and ‘mysterious’ in so many ways. To lose our sense of wonder at the diversity of life and how history has shaped us, is to lose sight of the purpose of life. This is a magical, exciting planet, which has always been full of wonder…”
With meticulous technique, Louie creates a similarly illusory effect with paint, using fine line and blending that parallels the immaculately glowing surface of a Daguerreotype portrait. “Slappy, the Wonder Cyclops”, comes to life as a clown with dreams of circus stardom who performs at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1907. “Mary ‘Calamity’ Jenkens”, becomes an actress and opera singer that left a bizarre string of accidents in her wake. “The Secret Life of Emily Stokes” reveals a Victorian Woman with a mermaid tail holding a conch filled with flowers. Every character’s unique features reflect their captivating, and at times humorous, life stories.
Among the many variations of Phantasmagoria as idiom, Travis Louie’s work speaks to one’s imagination and the artistic process of externalizing such fantasies in painted form. Gothic writer Edgar Allen Poe described it as a way to destabilize the boundary between the internal working of the mind and reality.
Travis Louie’s work is a celebration of these phantasms, all the while rendering the seams between the world we inhabit and the world of his imagination practically invisible.– –
Travis Louie was born in Queens, New York. His formative years were spent watching ‘Atomic Age’ sci-fi movies and sketching genre characters like Godzilla, King Kong, and a host of creatures from Ray Harryhausen movies. He graduated from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and has been exhibited across the continental United States and in select exhibitions in Germany, France, and Canada. Louie was most recently featured in Guillermo del Toro’s 2016 landmark show “Living with Monsters” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Hi-Fructose 10th Anniversary traveling exhibition.