A mutant frog head with bug eyes grows out of a small metal paint bucket. It's placed on the floor to greet you as you first walk in the door of the Blaffer Gallery. Crafted from green expandable foam with eyes made from felt scraps, it's kind of creepy, kind of sad, kind of funny and kind of cute, and it sets the tone for Jon Pylypchuk's show.
Pylypchuk is a Canadian artist and former member of the goofball artist collective Royal Art Lodge. Curated by Blaffer director and chief curator Claudia Schmuckli, the exhibition "Jon Pylypchuk" surveys ten years of the artist's paintings, sculptures and drawings. Pylypchuk's world is populated with strange, cobbled-together animal characters. And he's got some of the best titles around — they're dialogue between the characters in his work, and the artist often writes them out next to the figures in his paintings and drawings.
I could, however, live without most of the paintings in the show. The early ones with the awkward collage and microscopic text are closest to the drawings, but most just feel bigger than they need to be. The later ones have thick, viscous smears ands swirls of paint that wallow in the purposefully ugly, but all that pigment seems to overpower the best things in Pylypchuk's art. His tragically awkward but oddly endearing sculptures and drawings are the show's standouts.
In cut the act you phony cripple/you try living with your legs bent up (2005), two pathetic-looking figures confront each other. Their stuffed bodies are crafted from mangy fake fur that looks like it was ripped from some third-grader's snot-and-grime-encrusted winter parka. A striped cat-like figure on stick legs points a stick arm accusingly at a dog-like figure in a wheeled cart using sticks to propel himself. The creepy/cuddly thing is at work here, too. If anything could be described as warmly abject, it is Pylypchuk's art.
In other works, Pylypchuk's figures pee together in a corner, or fight each other in the boxing ring with strands of silicone tears or sweat running from their eyes. All are crafted with the same sort of cast-off materials and haphazard style.
The sculptures are spaced throughout the Blaffer's notoriously problematic downstairs gallery. They seem kind of lost in the expansive space and the sea of brown brick that paves the gallery's floor. (The best approach to that floor was when Urs Fischer coated the whole damn thing with rubbery black paint for his 2006 Schmuckli-organized installation. See "Space and Quiet," June 22, 2006.) Something about Pylypchuk's work makes me want to see it shown stuffed into claustrophobic, ramshackle rooms.
Pylypchuk's drawings are intimate, direct and effective, created with an economy of materials that makes most of the large paintings look unnecessary. The artist delineates simple horizon lines by cutting and pasting layers of paper. Using bits of felt and fur, dustings of glitter and sand, delicate pen lines and the occasional splooge-like spills of glue, the artist tells his darkly comic and oddly poignant stories. In one, a little stick figure says "fathead" to a lumpy character lying in a bed, who replies "hydrocephalic." In another drawing, a scrap of black felt with a tuft of hair and bits of paper as eyes says "stop treating me like a plastic fuck doll" to a scrap of fur with eyes, who replies, "kiss me."
The sexual and the profane run throughout the show, but Pylypchuk's work has an overwhelmingly childlike quality that blunts a lot of the sharp edges. It's just not exactly a childhood you would want to have...
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