Britt Ehringer: Tacos@Midnight: The So-Cal Experience
June 14 - July 13, 2014
By SHANA NYS DAMBROT, JULY 2014
Folks tell young authors, “write what you know.” Polonius tells Hamlet, “To thine own self be true.” About the work in his recent exhibition at Ojai’s Galerie102, painter, mixed media artist, and native son of So-Cal Britt Ehringer tells us, “This is the show I have tried to avoid painting for decades.”
Tacos@Midnight includes paintings, drawings and photographs, often inhabiting and generating the same compositions. His subject matter is legible from a mile away -- it’s pure Southern California. Bathing suits, sunglasses, skateboards, beers, palm trees, surfboards, comic book Pop, the ocean. But at more intimate proximity another set of subjects rise to the surface -- a problematic nostalgia, an enthusiastic kitsch, and a kind of bitter whimsy that permeate the images in content and style. To begin with, he’s an exceptionally talented technical painter, able to deploy an impressive array of brushstrokes, collaged surface treatments, and palette-teasers with precision and to expressive effect. This work is far too well made to be a joke. Yet the images themselves depict an equally astonishing array of laughably idiotic behavior involving chugging beers, surfing naked, trespassing in abandoned pools, tagging shit, and generally speaking slacking off with gusto. In the warm treatment Ehringer lavishes on this material, he toes the line between archetype and cliche -- which is exactly why he’s never wanted to go there.
A self-taught artist with what his bio accurately describes as “an irreverent pop-art sensibility and a penchant for tongue in cheek social commentary,” Ehringer recently made the pages of Time Magazine with a large-scale painting of Scarface atop a pile of kittens. Again, much of the work’s appeal derived from the unlikely combination of comedic subject and dead-serious studio practice. But unlike previous work, for some reason or reasons, Ehringer finally decided it was time to pull the trigger of autobiography, and apply this acerbic wit to his own identity. His choice of medium (mostly oil on linen) also reflects the gentility of his cynicism with regard to the seedier parts of his childhood era. By including and incorporating appropriated pop culture iconography along with art-historical tropes referencing Pettibon and Ruscha -- artists with their own volatile relationships to the So-Cal ethos) -- Ehringer’s work not only narrates but embodies the tumult of high and low lifestyle that defined that time and place. The results are both knee-slappers and delights, as this outsider insider creates fascinating and absorbing work peeling back a layer of the California Dream to reveal, if not a nightmare, at least a kind of fever.
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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