Daniel Mendel-Black, Pretty Lips Are Red
January 30 to March 12, 2016
When Daniel Mendel-Black came out to Los Angeles in the '90s, West Coast abstraction was a revelation to him. Back then, as he saw it, it seemed like the major concern on the East Coast was with the objectification of painting. The discussion back there, he stressed in a recent conversation, was very much indebted to a negative critique of art. In Los Angles, by contrast, he discovered there was still a generation of artists interested in the trip-out or zone-out aspect of a painted field.
In short, you could say Mendel-Black’s work is about what happened when the sensibility of objectification collided with his discovery of the power of the painted surface. On the one hand, there was no way for him to turn the clock back on abstract painting. As excited as Mendel-Black was by the potential for these newfound dynamic meditative qualities, the artist pointed out, he also needed to remind himself that his initial inspiration had nothing to do with making a regular painting.
Early on, in fact, according to Mendel-Black, he did not even want the work to look like art at all. Anything but, he said. To him, painting, like drawing or sculpture, was an academic category. Only later, he explained, when his way forward became more clearly about confounding those sorts of categories did the pieces strangely begin to look more recognizable as art.
The challenge for him, he explained, became to work with the inherited emblems of negative critique, such as those offered by fragmentation or collage, to show how they could just as easily be used in a positive manner to enhance the painted surface.
Mendel-Black said it made him realize what he was trying to do, although through different means, was not unlike the Renaissance Masters who took the Spirit of the Holy Ghost for their subject. He is, he insisted, after something very similar. “The only difference,” as he said, “is that I do not wish to paint a living picture of the universe. My subject in the most recent paintings is more specifically the life that runs through it.”
The exhibition's title is taken from the 1956 Situationist International essay “A User’s Guide to Détournement”. In his attempt to define “détournement” as one of the most effective methods by which the group sought to subvert mainstream culture, Guy Debord, perhaps best known for Society of The Spectacle, shared some examples of phrases he had repurposed from the popular media. Among his favorite was one found in a lipstick ad. The slogan of which read: “Pretty Lips Are Red”.
- Private Area