Happy Endings? Sure, you’ll probably leave this Shooting Gallery show happy, assuming you went in the same way. Greg Gossel’s zero-sum game is blunted, ironically, by the competence and goodness of the painting, the accessibility and familiarity of its referents. It yields good work and simultaneously prevents it from being great. Enlarged beyond the point of photographic clarity, mugs of Princess Di, JFK, Kate Moss, and Mike Tyson tear through Jack Kirby-era comic faces collaged with scribbles and melodramatic word bubbles. I was certain this artist was a 40-something coastal artist who grew up on the heels of Lichtenstein and Hanna-Barbera, an heir apparent. “How do I face life without him?” asks one word bubble, which repeatedly appears in the dozen-plus pieces on display. I wonder how the artist would face life without a pop-art precedent.
Regardless of my previous certainty, Gossel lives in Minneapolis (hello, hometown) and is younger than 29 year-old me. While it might seem immaterial, or unfair, I’m more willing to forgive an older artist for coasting in well-worn ruts than an emerging, mid-twenties challenger to common culture. New artists have the responsibility to challenge past, present, and imagined future. The skein of artificial street grit and age isn’t more than a mild embellishment on a tired exploration on populism. (I think “pop” art, in a looser sense, absolutely still has room to shake and move, by the way.) The images, the compositions do not stick with me. They are decorative though. Painted in a virtuosic kind of duotone with flat color, beguilingly like screen prints, the content meets collaged advertisements where it isn’t overlaid with scribbles of spray paint and other dry materials. With a “flesh tone” piece often paired with a nearly identical, “emotive” colored piece you might say, Gossel’s work evokes color theory classes…which are probably not very far past him. In spite of the attempted juxtaposition, I slide right off one piece to the next.
The most interesting experiment is in the placing and replacing of the same word bubbles, icons, etc. into different pieces, as if Gossel is trying to unlock something in the reuse of visual language. The same despondent romance with soggy tears pervades the various pieces in the second “layer”, stealing thunder from Iron Mike. I scoured the pieces looking for the Rosetta stone, but realized there’s no codex to be found—it’s in the making. If the common image paired with local visual elements is an identifier of sorts (a Star Trek poster ripped from different streets or neighborhoods, for example), Gossel is on his way to finding a voice and cutting away from the pack. Until then, I think my happy ending lies in the hot-pink massage ad just behind Di’s right ear.
Check out a video of the exhibition here: http://vimeo.com/5414998
(*Images, from top to bottom : Greg Gossel, Kate (in black), Mixed Media on Canvas, 36x42in. Greg Gossel, Convertible, Mixed Media on Canvas, 106x75in. Greg Gossel, Nurse (in Blue), mixed Media on Canvas 36x42in. Greg Gossel, Nurse (in White), mixed Media on Canvas, 36x42in. Greg Gossel, Diana (in red), Mixed Media on Canvas, 36x42in. All images courtesy of the artist and Shooting Gallery, San Francisco.)