It's getting to the point where nobody respects the dead. Fresh to death
David Leggett’s new mixed-media paintings wrestle with complicated feelings towards his two obsessions, painting and hip-hop, as he confronts race, sexuality, fame and class in humorous and ambiguous situations.
Leggett’s show in Gallery 1 at Western Exhibitions opens on Friday, January 27th, 2012 with a free public reception from 5 to 8pm and will run through March 10, 2012. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 11am to 6pm and by appointment.
David Leggett’s ultra-vivid canvases mash-up a love-hate fascination with both machismo in hip-hop culture and the unyielding influence of 1980s German painters in current contemporary painting. No one is sacred in Leggett’s work – from Precious to Rick Ross to Gerhard Richter to the artist himself – his satirical images are often punctuated by barbed comedic one-liners, a strategy influenced by the stand-up comedians he listens to in the studio. Leggett his manipulation of cartoon imagery and caricature reveals the influence of Chicago Imagists like Karl Wirsum and Jim Nutt. His use of craft materials, however, complicates his relationship to painting as googly eyes, rhinestones, pom-poms, felt, glitter, gold and silver leaf add a layer of absurdity to Leggett’s reverence for his painting heroes. In the past year, Leggett’s studio suffered a devastating flood, destroying some 50 finished paintings. States Leggett: “When I saw all my paintings damaged from the leak I couldn't help but notice how small the paintings were. I felt I wasn't challenging myself. It felt like what I was doing wasn't important.” This show, post-flood, will feature Leggett’s largest canvases to date.
Burr opens the show with a graphic depiction of a white woman performing a sex act on a black man contrasted with an image of Theo Huxtable, the lovable son from “The Cosby Show” (the 1980s are a recurring theme in this show). The title of the painting, “Burr” is swiped from rapper Gucci Mane to describe how much jewelry (ice) he sports. In this painting, Leggett uses the word to signify his attraction/repulsion to the gangsta culture that’s been prevalent in hip-hop for the past twenty years. As for “The Cosby Show” reference, Leggett states that he’s “curious why people aren’t putting the Theo Huxtable experience in paintings”.
The Chicago Dog pays homage to Sigmar Polke, the ‘80s German painter whom Leggett feels is slighted by current contemporary painters in favor of the cool machinations of Gerhard Richter. In this work, Leggett haphazardly stretches a large sheet of crumpled paper over an already-stretched canvas and on top, collages drawings of three white blondes (reminiscent of R. Crumb’s bawdy females), while sausage links tumble down the canvas across the women’s faces, a classic ‘80s compositional strategy.
Dead and Stank is a salmon pink field punctuated by candy-red dots (a la Polke’s appropriated Ben-Day dots) with the title phrase scrawled faintly at the top. “Dead and Stank” is a phrase that means tired and old (coined by Leggett’s older sisters) and he utilizes it here to describe his uneasy relationship to both hip-hop and canonized German painters.
That's were they made me at might take its color scheme from late ‘80s rap videos such as TLC’s “What About Your Friends” or DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s “Parents Just Don’t Understand”. Like the text scrawled atop the garish pinks and blues, a line from a Jay-Z tune “Niggaz tryin’ to bring the ‘80s back”, Leggett is trying to combine 1980’s painting techniques, from both the street and the white cube, on top of stained raw canvas, that Greenberg-ian ideal.
In A Natural Death, the word “Jackson” is sweepingly splayed across a dark canvas splashed with white and pink splotches – again mashing graff-style with AbEx technique and combining the myths of Jackson Pollock and Michael Jackson. The twist here, however, as denoted by the black glittery fake skull that is perched on top of the painting, is that Leggett finds himself more interested in the after-lifes of these artists - how their fame, after death, is now more intoxicating.
The show at Western Exhibitions focuses on recent paintings; his concurrent show at the Hyde Park Art Center (January 15 to April 29, 2012) highlights his drawing practice. For the past year, Leggett has created an artwork a day for his blog project Coco River Fudge Street, named after a fictitious location invented by the artist “to sound funny, dirty and tasty at the same time.” HPAC will present over 150 of these hilariously ribald drawings.
This is David Leggett’s first solo show at Western Exhibitions. Leggett’s work has been included in group shows at The New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, Fecal Face Dot Gallery in San Francisco, 65 Grand in Chicago and in “Disinhibition: Black Art Blue Humor” at the Hyde Park Art Center. He was a recipient of the 3Arts Visual Artist Award in 2009. Leggett received his BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design and his MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2007. He currently lives and works in Chicago.