After 40-plus years, has pop art completely exhausted itself? Are pop works still relevant or just stimuli for our 10-minute attention spans? CPOP Gallery hosts “Sex, Flames & Tracers,” new work by Kevin T. Kelly and “Bachelor Pad a Go-Go” by Kevin Stanislawski, both good examples of the current pop art climate.
In the 1960s, comics-derived works by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein were shocking; but a comic-book approach to art has become so ubiquitous that it starts to lose its flavor. Kelly brings Lichtenstein back from the dead (with all due respect) in paintings and drawings that contain a tight, brightly colored comic-book manner. Traditional pop images have mostly been flat subjects within a flat style (Warhol’s soup cans, for example). But Kelly applies this blunt method to furious sex encounters and creates a moment of absolute irony.
In “Art Lovers,” boy and girl do it doggy-style with their backs to us — every section of color precise, every line meticulously measured, every element exactly placed. It’s not hot, wet and sticky sex play — instead we experience something cold and calculated, almost antiseptic. We witness an empty, plastic shell which either goes to the essence of copulation or pulls completely away from it.
Peachy thighs flail in the air while two circa-World War II planes engage in a lethal dogfight in the background of the aptly named “Tailgunner.” But most of Kelly’s pieces don’t have the candid sex scenes of “Art Lovers” and “Tailgunner”; the majority contain men and women in 1950s-style dress interacting in fairly platonic situations.
As do Kevin “Slaw” Stanislawski’s cartoonish portraits of ladies with pearl necklaces and pillbox hats, and gents with slicked-back hair and tight-fitting suits. All of Slaw’s subjects appear well on their way to inebriation from cigarettes and one martini after another (as are the guests at many a gallery opening). Each painting provides a comical look at the “society swingers of the jet-set,” a rendering of (white, middle-class) American life in the ’50s and ’60s and a nostalgic look at life’s frivolities.
In both shows, there’s a feeling that we’re looking to the past in order to gain some equilibrium, like taking a Dramamine for present-day social and political motion sickness. But each goes beyond a fond look at a bygone era, becoming more like a desperate longing to reside “back in the good old days,” when life was supposedly simpler or at least more fun.
Jim Morrison, during one of his intoxicated performances, once announced, “I’m gonna get my kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames.” And whether we use sex, martinis, drugs or pop culture to get there, we’re still taking a lackadaisical trip to La-La Land on a fast-moving train. Or perhaps a ’57 Chevy?
CPOP Gallery is located at 4160 Woodward, Detroit. Call 313-833-9901 for more info.Liz DiDonna writes about art for the Metro Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org