August, 2008: Patrick Griffin @ Journal gallery
Count Thy Buttons
By Andrew Nealon
The sunny skies over Williamsburg — Brooklyn’s intermittently hip, forever toxic industrial culture center — clouded up sometime around 4 p.m. Two hours later, the mid-summer downpour had thoroughly mussed the hairdos and wet the cigarettes of those crowded under umbrellas outside the Journal gallery
. And while the heavy rains brought a grave sense of humdrum listlessness to the evening, the opening night of Patrick Griffin’s first solo show, Count Thy Buttons, was enough to lighten the mood with a keen sense of humor unfitting to the lightening storm crackling outside.
To cut directly to the chase, Count Thy Buttons is simple. Three walls covered with black leather, each wall adorned with a number of kitschy or angst-ridden one- to two-foot panel paintings fashioned to look like the buttons and pins one might find on the vest of a 60s Hells Angel or 80s punk rocker or — somewhat ironically — a modern day hipster douche in track shorts. These are buttons, larger than life — Pop throwback through the lens of too many Saturday mornings at the junk shop.
Superficially, Count They Buttons is exactly what you expect it to be. It isn’t shocking or surprising. It’s not Dadaistic reflection on art without preformatted social expectations. It’s not even polished Pop deliciousness. And while it is sweet, Count Thy Buttons isn’t factory-produced confection; it’s mom-and-pop rock candy with jagged edges. Post-Punk Pop, if you will.
Walking into the gallery, it’s easily established this collection isn’t the type to demand a scholarly insight for understanding. That isn’t to say it’s not smart. “Stick it in your ear,” “From wine, women & song; to beer, the old lady & TV,” and “Sounds like bullshit to me.” Slogans, clichés all, shine down from their haphazard placements due to a thick coating of slick resin. These mottos — collected in original miniscule form by the artist’s friends, at the aforementioned junk shop and even eBay — reflect the disturbing personal statements so many hold to be Truth to live by. Here on the wall, the bumper-sticker absurdity of each button, and its possible owner, comes out to play.
Split into three walls, a few themes emerge. Sure, most obviously, there’s the “Shit” wall, where each button includes the best of all four-letter words. “More Shit,” one proclaims. “Same old bullshit,” another bemoans. Then, a journey through youth rebellion with the wall of slogans all relatable to “Up Yours.” Basically, it’s the CBGB’s wall, where you’re told where you can stick it. Enigmatically, the third wall channels all the rage and dissent into the silly nonsense youth culture somehow identifies with. The “I’ve been slimed” Ghostbuters pin, the neo-classic parental advisory label, the whale suggesting, in a show of inter-mammalian pride, “Save the Humans.”
It’s on this third wall where the true worth of Griffin’s show resides. Despite all the anger and discontentment that comes with youth — mostly a result the idiotic American requirement that kids fully self-identify through utterances like those on Griffin’s buttons — there’s that nonsense that we all relate to, no matter how tough, or punk or douchey. Everyone wants to know “What’s Cooking?” And no matter what, isn’t “Your hole is my goal” always the truth?
As a first show, Griffin delivers a quick glimpse of a great talent — mostly stemming from his ability to be so wry while there’s leather on the wall. Overall, the buttons as a whole are head turning and provoke a bit of self-reflection on one’s own power slogans. Together, they offer up a laugh. However, split form the context of the show, the buttons stand to lose their meaning. Without the leather backdrop and cluttered placement, it’s hard to imagine any single button having quite the same effect for so little intellectual cost. But if the only thing wrong with this show is its inability to break into smaller ironies, let it be.
Griffin’s work with Count Thy Buttons won’t find a universal audience. But it will play well with anyone who’s ever pinned on a badge, felt trapped inside a subculture or been angry with, well, everything and everyone. A drop by the gallery while on a stroll through Williamsburg is recommended. Even if the slogans will be on the vests of kids for years to come, Griffin’s flair will only be bound to the leather walls of the Journal through September 2.
It was on that rainy opening night in Williamsburg, though, when Griffin’s buttons had their full effect. As soggy patrons swayed to the beat-driven guitar crunch of TV Baby playing loud under the banner of anti-authority slogans, the mottos took on reality. After a run in with New York’s finest, the Journal’s editor-in-chief spent the night in jail. “Stick it in your ear.” “I Quit.”