Glenn Waggner’s Existential After Party
Neutra Institute Gallery & Museum
Closing reception April 15, 2-5pm
by Genie Davis
Glenn Waggner’s exhibition, The Existential After Party, currently at the Neutra Institute Gallery & Museum in Silverlake may just be the quintessential Southern California landscape. Offering a mix of architecture, figures, and landscapes, his work has a minimal feel, a clean, cool aesthetic that belies the amazing details when one looks closer at his work.
We have cities, chefs, beach goers, in beautifully rendered work that bespeaks Waggner’s architectural background and his love of the SoCal lifestyle. Skateboarding and surfing in the 70’s, the artist has picked up the visual vernacular of this culture, in his beach towns and bars; there is humor and a delicate fragility to his work. There is also a sense of vast perspective, with vivid color and shading in his backgrounds, we feel both pulled into his world and in awe of its human elements, so tiny, so persistent, so sure of their place in the larger scheme of things.
Waggner says “I try to create slightly different worlds than the one we live in. In this show, most of the paintings have a lot of sky and some kind of landscape with tiny people or architecture. Sometimes we need to be reminded that we are small compared to nature.”
The artist’s work is so carefully wrought it seems almost impossible in its own way; the counterpart to carving intricate Netsuke from minute pieces of ivory or wood.
“I start with a horizontal line across the panel, then expand on it until it becomes some kind of cliff or object, then I add the sky and foreground. The foreground is typically abstracted, so it could be water, sand, earth or in some cases blackened ground,” Waggner explains. “In others, the sky appears to be in the same plane as the subject matter, making it imposing, rather than receding into the background.”
The show at the Neutra marks a turning point for Waggner in terms of subject matter. He notes “The show has a very different feel from what I typically paint. I wanted to explore a single theme and see where it takes me. My usual color, composition and sometimes humor are all in the work, but the subject matter is different.”
The viewer feels a sense of inchoate longing emanating from Waggner’s subjects here, a reaching out across a vast expanse.
As an example Waggner relates “In Chefs with no background in cooking, chefs are at the bottom cooking. There is a kitchen hood over a few flaming pans. Then there is a field above with a smoke stack emitting the chefs’ cooking, but the smokestack and buildings appear to be further away, as opposed to directly above the kitchen, and there is a large, solid black plane between the chefs and land above.” He adds “The title does not imply the chefs are inexperienced cooks, but rather that there is literally no background behind them. It is a void.”
And yet it is a void that seems pregnant with meaning.
“Everything starts with an idea. Sometimes the idea does not appear at first, but usually just by painting the idea will form. For The Existential After Party, I started with some panels that were tall and very narrow, sizes like 48” x 12”,” he says. “Once I added architecture, people or alien landscapes the series started taking form.”
Ultimately, that form is the essence of life in Southern California – or perhaps in the world, today. Uncertain, larger than us, and here we are, in our insignificance, persevering. Or perhaps creating dynamic, existentially exhilarating art.