Jeremiah Palecek, I Like Turtles, courtesy the artist
STYX Project Space
The career of Jeremiah Palecek has thus far been as uncanny as his paintings. Virtually unknown in the art world, Palecek is something of a celebrity in the virtual world via his painting-a-day blog Nerdkore.com
, which has garnered the 30-year-old artist a significant amount of both press and prestige. He’s amassed a devoted coterie of fans and collectors, typically selling his paintings as fast as he makes them. This puts Palecek in the unique position of a fine artist able to make a living without hardly ever showing – or having gallery representation, for that matter.
His current show at STYX Project Space is thus a rare opportunity for us to examine his work off screen. It also poses an interesting challenge: Given the fact that most of Palecek’s recent paintings take their inspiration from viral videos, does the work stand on its own, outside of its online context, or is it destined to remain enshrined in pixilated reproduction, essentially sharing the same medium as its reference?
It’s an intriguing question, and one that is worth considering in the context of some of the fifty-three paintings in the STYX exhibition. The shirtless male figure depicted in Techno Viking
(2008) raises his right arm to the sky in a righteous gesture, as though communicating with a divine presence. There are people standing behind him – he is clearly at a demonstration of some sort, as this is a street scene – but the details of their clothing and features are blurred. Whether you are familiar with the viral video, featuring footage from Berlin’s Fuck Parade, from which the painting takes its name (search it out on YouTube – it’s well worth watching), or not, what makes the painting work is Palecek’s style, which is almost cartoon-like with its thick, chunky patches of color and exaggerated distribution of light and shade. Such tics, which essentially wash out any unnecessary detail, add a sardonic element to the images that is subtle enough to be named as the artist’s signature. We don’t need to see the lines and creases in the face of Tom Cruise
(2008) to recognize the paranoid dementia in his eyes (the painting is of a still taken from the actor’s infamous Scientology flip-out interview.)
While Palecek’s paintings are incredibly small – walking through the exhibition at STYX, you almost feel like they are panels sans
a larger narrative thread – there is nothing slight about them. Palecek isn’t pretentious enough to make any zeitgeistian claims for his work, yet the paintings manage to articulate a troubling message regarding the insane uncertainties behind mediation and reality. It would be wrong to conclude that Palecek’s paintings merely dish up a proscriptive social critique; the artist is ultimately concerned with the formal matters that have historically relegated his chosen medium. What this means for the viewer is that, regardless of your awareness of what’s going on online at any given moment, when you step into the gallery, you are ultimately entering Palecek’s world. This is a universe comprised not of pixilated images, but of oil and enamel on canvas and masonite, an ambitious project where the figurative and the abstract meld in order to dissolve both categories, while retaining a nod to a distant original straddling that uncertain sphere that connects the virtual world to our own.