That's Just the Way It Is
Marvelli Gallery is pleased to present Thatís Just the Way It Is, the second solo exhibition of artist Michael St. John at the gallery. Challenging the solipsistic quality of the solo exhibition and stressing the social aspect of art-making, Michael invited six artists, with whom he feels a strong affinity, to include works in his exhibition. The dialogue among the works is thus an integral part of the show. The artists are: Alex McQuilkin, Josh Smith, Nate Lowman, Thomas McDonell, Caroline Polachek, and Sebastian Errazuriz.
From the essay that Haley Mellin wrote for the catalogue accompanying the exhibition:
"Money, collateral, missing dogs, guns for sale, bail funds, cad red airborne chemical sunsets, leftover boxes, the fastest gun in town. As a person and an artist, Michael St. John is generous. The work is unpretentious, open, available. What he makes is as ruthless at it is vulnerable. As an artist addressing the world through pieces of the world, he has this stunning ìI do care romanceî that extends beyond the punk, emo, fucked up nature of some of his subject matter. Michael writes, ìThe title of the show ìThatís Just the Way It Isî, it comes from a Tupac song about change and how nothingís going to change so we shouldnít expect it to.î
'Closed,' a black awning, some bird shit, and a string of white Christmas lights, has mourning written all over it. It speaks to what a mess we have made, a punk, nihilist, alienated world as phenomena. "I try to commemorate these things as best as I can," Michael states. He shows things as they are, a desire to make less art and more reality. The work arrives fresh and actual. It quotes from life. Furthering this idea of what remains, 'Postings,' a faux lamppost covered in scraps and signage, collaged together newspapers and posters create a readymade abstraction. Realism extends beyond what is pictured to what actually is. "I want the artwork to be real, not like a dream or a movie," Franz West said, "I want to be able to step into it, to sit on it, lie on it. The artist lives in a social environment, he doesnít just produce work from the other side...It doesnít matter what the art looks like but how itís used. The important thing is to find a place for art, not a description."
Michaelís work is an accumulation of cultural symbols, of post-tech functionality, of multiple image lives, of images as data. Symbols accrue meaning, they age, they have residue from use, invention, and interpretation. He presents this as-is-ness without sub-title or pretense. It is neutral, simple, direct. Robert Hughes wrote, "a Gustave Courbet portrait of a trout has more death in it than Rubens could get in a whole crucifixion," which gets at the heart of the matter: realism is about actuality, not pictured reality. Generating a prolific output of work, ideas and images from daily events, his aesthetic engages with realism as a philosophical concept. Drawing reference to Andy Warholís commemoration of the dayís events, William Egglestonís tributes to the discarded, and Robert Rauschenbergís involvement with the world, St. Johnís work arrives reminiscent of the Wallace Stevens poem, "itís not about the thing, but it is the thing itself."
Beyond Michaelís nihilism, there is a fragile care and decided vulnerability to the work, like he is a keeper of words and images. He is passing them on, entirely observant of his choices. Courbet stated, "Beauty, like truth, is relative to the time when one lives and to the individual who can grasp it." The directness of realism, presenting what is without altering it, enlarging it, or adding some stylistic affection, is rather radical in its simplicity. The object becomes exposed, more vulnerable than strong. Thomas McDonell writes, "There is a Gramscian resolve in the work of this artist; the pessimism of his intellect does not break the optimism of his will. That which is sinister reveals that which is lovely and this complexity of the work describes a landscape of possibility, even hope." The work is a pressure gauge of now, the symbols and language signs come out real, and very human. He creates an optimistic vulnerability in the dried up castings and leftover detritus of a better time. He shows that maybe this time is the better time, itís real, itís direct, itís what is."