Federico Solmi: Chinese Democracy and the Last Day On Earth
Luis De Jesus Los Angeles
September 8 -October 20, 2012
In an era when grim dystopian narratives abound in literature and film, it is no surprise they’ve infiltrated the realm of art -- for Federico Solmi, in an inventive blend of media. His recent exhibition at Culver City’s Luis de Jesus Gallery revolved around Solmi’s fluorescent hued animated video, Chinese Democracy and the Last Day on Earth (Part II) (2012, HD video, color, sound, 10:32 minutes) -- a satirical fictional portrayal of a ruthless Chinese dictator who leads a surge of goose-stepping soldiers on a bloody invasion of Times Square, the last phase of his total world domination. In the triumphant finale, the larger-than-life dictator floats balloon-like in the parade above a cheering crowd.
The video screens back-to-back in the first gallery with its prelude, Solmi’s companion animated work, Song of Tyranny (Part I) (2012, HD Video, color, sound, 5:52 minutes). The establishing scene is the Garden of Eden, completely idyllic with all the creatures on earth peacefully co-habitating, a rainbow overhead, to a harmonious soundtrack of birdsong. This perfect world is soon shattered, as animals and humans are locked up in cages. A gleeful dictator promises to invade America, assuring his people their country is invincible. It’s ironic that while the conquering army demolishes a cartoon Times Square, an image of a billboard for The Hunger Games emerges in the background -- a sort of tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of another fictional commentary on the collapse of Western civilization and culture.
Created in collaboration with Australian-based 3-D artist Russell Lowe, Solmi’s videos combine traditional hand-drawn animation with digital models, using computer gaming engines to create production values with a unique gritty, raw quality and texture. Continuing in the same theme, in the back gallery, we are introduced to Solmi’s paintings -- frozen action scenes like film stills, but with much more intensity and richness, composed with staggering and sometimes lurid detail. The artist’s vivid palette, predominated by blood red, bright green and neon yellow -- is topped off with lavish gold leaf embellishment. Spin-offs and/or precursors of the videos, the paintings offer close-up views into the artist’s imagined world. In Chinese Army Invading Times Square (2011) rows of soldiers peer out from the frame, their huge grins sporting pointy teeth. In the tradition of evil masterminds – always seemingly the happiest of characters - in the background, the huge face of the dictator gloats.
Wall Street is the setting for Mankind on Earth (Chinese Army Slaughtering Dick Richman) (2011). In this image, a throng of gleeful green-garbed soldiers is killing Dick Richman, the selfish and greedy Wall Street executive featured in Solmi’s 2010 animated video, Douche Bag City, while other blue-suited banker types are roped, tied, devoured and tortured with pitchforks. Among other toppled Western icons, the Stature of Liberty has fallen. A section of its head lies in the background, eyes gazing on the carnage. A row of gravestones in the foreground commemorates not people, but vanquished relics of an era, among them - Pigs, Selfish, Gold, Wall Street and Greed.
Many of the paintings incorporate text, as in Well Done Comrades! We Have Conquered Capitalist America! (2012). Comic book and film-like, the painting has three cells. The title of the work runs across the top in Solmi’s precise gold capital letters. Along the bottom is the caption, “God Bless Our Troops! Now It Is Time To Teach Them A Lesson!” Solmi again employs a vivid palette of black, gold leaf and blood red – shown here spurting. The triumphant soldiers sport dildo-like appendages, which stand at attention, obviously engorged with lust at their victory.
Solmi’s imagery is childlike – but paradoxically not with the accompanying naivete of a child’s point of view. It’s clear he is having fun ridiculing the values of our misguided society -- corruption, greed, power and excess. A kind of visionary who proffers a cautionary tale in words and pictures, Solmi may be pulling our leg and warning us at the same time. His artistic vision is all once playful, imaginative, gruesome, amusing, violent and shocking. Brilliant, yes. We can only hope it is not prophetic.
Megan Abrahams is a Los Angeles-based writer and artist. The managing editor of Fabrik Magazine, she is also a contributing art critic for Art Ltd., Fabrik, ArtPulse and Whitehot magazines. Megan attended art school in Canada and France. She is currently writing her first novel and working on a new series of paintings.
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