Whitehot Magazine

January 2009, Andrew Guenther @ Freight and Volume

Andrew Guenther, 72 x 84, acrylic on canvas,
Courtesy Freight and Volume, NY

Andrew Guenther, Looking for Culture Part III: Back to My Old Ways
November 22, 2008 through January 10, 2009
Freight and Volume, 542 West 24th St.

The personal, obscure, and sometimes macabre, work in Andrew Guenther’s Looking For Culture Part III: Back to My Old Ways is charged with an uplifting and peculiar energy.

The exhibit, going on at Freight and Volume in Chelsea through January 10, presents a survey of Guenther’s old and new paintings, as well as a treasure trove of found objects, sculptures, photographs, and assemblages.

Guenther’s unique aesthetic sensibility immediately grabs the viewer. The vibrant oranges, pinks, and greens of his expressive paintings mingle with his colorful knick-knacks. These include such curiosities as used lotto tickets, a framed greeting card screenprinted by the artist, sticks of charcoal, a pack of cigarettes, playing cards, and a paper-mache sculpture of someone having sex with what looks to be a tortoise. 

Paintings, wooden shelves, and accessories become one to create an overall artistic experience. The visual atmosphere is reminiscent of a thrift shop, but things are delicately harmonious rather than mismatched. Perhaps a surf shop would be a more accurate comparison, as coconuts, seashells, and sunglasses all appear in Guenther‘s visual tapestry.

Andrew Guenther, Installation View, Courtesy Freight and Volume, NY

Andrew Guenther, Installation View, Courtesy Freight and Volume, NY

On the South Wall, a sprawling acrylic painting (Seagulls, 72 x 84 in., 2001) depicts silhouetted birds soaring through a brilliant orange and yellow sunset, above a teal landscape. The style is graphical and flat. The Pop Art style makes sense, however, as the painting was influenced by the design on a beach towel owned by the artist.

In fact, much of the work in Looking For Culture references Guenther’s personal life; many of the artifacts seen in the exhibit were plucked straight from his studio.  

The installation was a collaborative curatorial effort between Gallery Manager Kadar Brock and Andrew Guenther. Brock described a visit to the artist’s studio: littered with collections of statuettes, signs, and mementos, or “power pieces” (a tub of hair gel, saved for it’s inspiring graphic design, ceramic bowls made as a youth, black and white photographs taken by his grandfather). When the Gallery Manager saw two small watercolors ceremoniously propped on a miniature wooden shelf, he had the idea of recreating the intimacy and eccentricity of Guenther’s studio right inside the Freight and Volume gallery.

Auras of Things and Shelf (22 x 24 in., 2002-2008) appears alongside the aforementioned Seagulls. A colored-pencil drawing on canvas depicts the outlines of psychedelic blobs, or energy fields, emanating from a central division. It can be taken as the aura of a human face. Below the drawing, a pair of rubber, athletic sandals dangle from a wooden shelf. The assemblage mixes spiritual and physical imagery, enhanced by the temporal scene in Seagulls on the same wall.

These mixtures of seemingly disparate items betray Guenther’s personality as well as any painting can. His symbols and objects evoke narratives. As Gallery Director Brock says, “one can just imagine putting on the sandals and going to the beach [depicted in Seagulls].”

Andrew Guenther, Skull Pile,
68 x 48, Oil on Canvas,
Courtesy Freight and Volume, NY

Guenther references his own life as well as pop culture in a large assemblage opposite Seagulls. Two canvases sit on the floor, propped against the wall, as they might’ve appeared in the artist’s studio while in progress. These dark, expressive paintings (Up In The Air, Aware Now II) portray eerie figures, eyes and mouths agape, arms thrown up. Another long shelf is mounted at eye level above the paintings, littered with more of Guenther’s idiosyncratic items.

Skull & Shell, a human skull with two colorfully painted clamshells for ears, evokes death while seeming to celebrate life‘s senses. A metal clock ticks audibly among more of the artist’s creations: a ceramic bowl of beads, photographs, a small wooden sculpture of a coffin containing brass raisins.

The collection of artwork and trinkets accumulated over the past 8 or so years of the artist‘s life, along with the ominously ticking clock, reference the passage of time. Thus, the artist quite successfully allows us to see the progression of his own creative process. It’s as if we’re going through his house, looking at his possessions, piecing together his personal history.

Andrew doesn’t just reference his own culture, however, but that of the world at large. “Skull Pile,” a large oil painting depicting just that, appropriates the popular icon of the skull, as seen in comic books, horror movies, and art history class. In another assemblage, a classic black and orange “Store Hours” sign is presented with a cynical twist, the blanks of the seven day work week filled in to read “Go To Hell.”

These Pop Art references expose the duality of our fascination with and fear of death. The spirituality of his “aura” drawings and the expressions of his ghoulish figures exude a potent and mysterious life force. Andrew Guenther’s work is original, interesting, and humorous. It reflects himself and his eccentric world, which is, of course, our world too.

Dan Tarnowski

Dan Tarnowski has published reviews of culture, and several chapbooks of his poetry. He lives in Brooklyn.

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