Thaddeus Strode: Everybody wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die.
C. Nichols Projects, Los Angeles
January 25 - March 8, 2014
By SHANA NYS DAMBROT, Feb. 19, 2014
Thaddeus Strode’s first solo exhibition in Los Angeles (where he lives and works) in quite a long time, Everybody wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die. at C. Nichols Projects is one of the most exciting and enticing exhibitions of the gallery season. Comprising a series of mixed media paintings large and small, a new print portfolio, a number of small sculptural editions, a suite of drawings, and a wistful, cumbersome sculpture of a beached shark, the exhibition’s veritable riot of color, text, texture, and storyline by rights ought to be disorienting and even cacophonous. Instead, the installation strikes a lively tone and an opulent balance; the interconnections between stylistic array and salient image-bank create a soothing cohesiveness among all the variously composed works.
All the works evidence a dual sense of being both intensely personal and more broadly nostalgic for the volatile zeitgeist of his 1960s-70s LA youth. Well, nostalgia is not really the right word. It’s more like, a retrospective regard for the things that shaped and influenced his world view -- hippies and punks, cults and the occult, politics and culture wars, tabloid headlines and protest art. In addition to an engaging set of iconic pop culture images referencing those aspects of history, Strode deploys a lavish palette and an array of styles from the thick and painterly to the spray-painted, the found-and-collaged to the hand-inked, and gestural abstraction to graphic precision. His chosen iconography is not exactly archetypal but it is instantly recognizable, and utterly of its time and place -- however the specific visual language Strode is speaking using it is equally of the present moment, this time and place. Tragedy + time may not equal comedy, but it does equal allegory.
Strode’s penchant for layered images that create a kind of dissonant balance -- between say, science and folk art, children’s toys and ghosts, violence and fame, or death and enlightenment -- is particularly apparent in the print portfolio (also titled Everybody wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die., 18 offset lithographs) because of his layering of tissue-thin images that create both surrealism and pure abstraction in their overlap. But in some of the more major paintings his additive aesthetic expands to be even more visually multifaceted and emotionally affecting. For example, the bright but slightly menacing Sighs from the depths (2014, oil, acrylic, spray paint, varnish, polyurethane, aluminum on canvas, 48 x 36 in.) with its peace-eyed skull, flying ice cream treats, and choppy sea. A faux-naive hand, a reliance on primary colors, pictorial elements melting into gooey abstraction, and an expanse of empty space generate an unsettling but upbeat paradox even as the mind can’t help but attempt to decipher the “message” in the imagery.
My disjointed realities (2014, oil, acrylic, glue, spray paint on canvas, 72 x 48 in.) accomplishes a similar experience using the same strategies, but is a quite warm and generous image, with its balance shifted toward more complex color and simpler line-work. The smaller but powerful I can’t make your way (modern art), (2014, oil, acrylic, ink, spray paint, polyurethane on canvas, 48 x 36 in.) forms a kind of bridge between the paintings and the print portfolio, fusing elements of witty drawing-based images reflective of the lithographs with louder, snappier, more textured and emotive elements of abstract painting. Its motif of black, pink, and gold telegraphs the exact combination of sunshine and doom the entire undertaking exudes. WM
Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Downtown LA. She is the Arts Editor for the LA Weekly, and a contributor to Flaunt, Art and Cake, Artillery, and Palm Springs Life.
She studied Art History at Vassar College, writes essays for books and catalogs, curates and juries a few exhibitions each year, is a dedicated Instagram photographer and author of experimental short fiction, and speaks at galleries, schools, and cultural institutions nationally. She is a member of ArtTable and the LA Press Club, and sits on the Boards of Art Share-LA and the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, the Advisory Council of Building Bridges Art Exchange, and the Brain Trust of Some Serious Business.
Photo of Shana Nys Dambrot by Osceola Refetoff
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