BABY DE BABE, 2020
acrylic and pencil on paper
12.6 x 9.4 inches (32 x 24 cm)
David Nolan Gallery is pleased to present ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (DR. SPACE-ANIMALISM ,,E.A.G.L.E.”: FLY LIKE AN EAGLE), a selection of new paintings, sculptures and works on paper by Jonathan Meese. The exhibition marks the artist’s second collaboration with the gallery and his first show in New York in five years. These works were produced in the last 12 months in the midst of the global quarantine, apart from the social interactions of daily life. Greeted with isolation, the artist delves into a vocabulary both real and imaginary, armed with a rich arsenal of cultural references and a penchant for the fantastical. Meese invites the viewer, without prejudice or preconceived notion, into his dynamic, spectacular universe.
Jonathan Meese was born in Tokyo in 1970 to a German mother and Welsh father. Together with his siblings and mother, Jonathan relocated shortly thereafter to Hamburg. He spent his childhood escaping into alternate worlds, surrounded by toys, comics, Star Trek, and mesmerized by cinema. His mother nurtured his artistic sensibility by buying his first sketchpad and pastel set and encouraged him to study at the renowned Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg, where he studied under Franz Erhard Walther, a pioneer of participatory art. Walther’s philosophy favors improvisational installation that are activated by the viewer’s imagination; he conceived corporeal sculptures that could be arranged in multiple ways or display solutions imbued with a humanism that would profoundly affect Meese’s practice.
Turning 50 last year has energized Meese once again to respond to our turbulent times with a renewed sense of urgency and candor. On view are paintings, works on paper and sculptures, evocative of the artist’s highly performative and personal practice, woven together in a rich visual tapestry by vibrant color, confident markmaking and deft material knowledge. For Meese there is no hierarchy of media, no high or low art, each component stands alone as equally significant and performative within his own practice. As in Walther’s work, the elements inform and relate to one another to form a multifaceted and collaborative composite, lending itself to the German concept of gesamtkunstwerk or “total art”. Embracing this notion has made Meese’s reach widely varied and universally accessible, staging operas and theatrical performances alike, and creating capsule collections for fashion houses such as Adidas and Comme de Garçons, amongst others.
A new suite of works on paper introduces a new lexicon of fanciful beasts— devils, dragons, hybrid animals. In BABY DE BABE, the animal rendered perhaps represents the artist himself, equipped with a staff, leading the masses to enlightenment. Meese imagines the first animal as such, a cat-like creature with rich, earthy brown and vibrant yellow textured fur glowing with intense green eyes which possess a playful omniscience. In context, animals are symbolic primal beings living apart from the hypocrisies, distractions and greed of a modern human age. Cast into three-dimensions, Meese’s sculptures introduce mythological busts, voodoo mothers, sun children, and ghosts into his colorful panorama.
Meese approaches the paintings with the same fearlessness and childlike curiosity. Acrylic material builds in layers to create rich surface and texture. As the eye attempts to take in the canvas, familiar motifs surface as a sort of roadmap to understanding the artist’s process. The works are punctuated with words like ‘liebe’ (love), ‘kunst’ (art) and the artist’s own name and anthropomorphic characters. Like the works on paper and sculptures, the paintings are simulacra of the artist himself as he assumes multiple forms and disguises. A kind of self-portrait emerges, each functioning as an extension of the self.
Meese operates apart from any ideology and rejects what he considers the blunders of modern society: politics, Hollywood, celebrity worship. Rather than despair, he believes an ideal future is possible through art, and through love. The artist frequently alludes to a fictional utopia where art enables us to a plane of higher consciousness. Meese references the banal and the mass-produced, only to obscure or mask them through his own defiant gesture: a symbolic triumph of the creative expression reigns supreme. Throughout the show stand soldiers and iron crosses, produced with the same cartoonish innocence, so as to denounce their affiliations: an objective that feels particularly urgent given the current state of the world. Continuing to create a new and unique artistic vernacular, the exhibition site represents the vast landscape art uncovers. The artist is a public servant to this mission — uniting people through art and ushering us into an imagined space where potential is limitless.
Meese’s work has been the subject of numerous solo museum exhibitions including the recent retrospective DR. ZUHAUSE: K.U.N.S.T. (Erzliebe) at the Gesamtkunstwerk Lübeck (2019); Meese’s Odyssey at the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich (2018), PARSIFAL’S TRAUM: CHEFSACHE ‘K.U.N.S.T.’ at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (2017), MALERMEESE - MEESERMALER at Museum der Moderne Salzburg (2013), Jonathan Meese: Sculpture at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami (2010), Mama Johnny at Deichtorhallen Hamburg (2006), Képi blanc, nackt at Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt (2004), and Revolution at Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hanover (2002), among others.
His work is represented in prominent public collections internationally, including Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark; Essl Museum, Klosterneuburg, Austria; Musées de la Ville de Strasbourg; Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, Florida; Rubell Family Collection, Miami; de La Cruz Collection, Miami; Hall Art Foundation; Sammlung Falckenberg, Hamburg; Sammlung Goetz, Munich; Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst (S.M.A.K.), Ghent; and Thyssen Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna, among others.