press release

The history of painting and drawing's plasticity takes on new meaning and form in the work of James Esber. Using images culled from various media sources that are dissected, squeezed, and collaged into new meanings, the artist masterfully disrupts and manipulates the high/low version of American-styled culture that permeates most areas of the planet. With many of his works, Esber constructs a surface using plasticine, a putty-like substance available in a variety of colors, that is broken off in bits, rolled and pushed into the wall (or on canvases) with his fingers to render an array of unsettling hybrid/combo images and seductive textures. Hummel figurines, prizefighters, peeping toms, smashed up automobiles--Esber bombards us with a collision of iconic American winners/losers, heroes/villains, and low-brow kitsch. The result is a rollicking onslaught of images we encounter through news or advertisements, where we're past the point of making sense of it all.

In other works, Esber pushes graphite, paint, ink and watercolor around flat surfaces, some cut out and forced back together, in such a way that recalls the work of Chicago's legendary Hairy Who, the painter Peter Saul, and tricked-out 60's psychedelia. Through his line, material, and technique, Esber, almost an alchemist by nature, turns rigid forms into squished liquidity with a nod to the surrealists and traditional portraiture. Despite this bending of line and structure, distorted color and mismatched images, we can navigate the resulting work with a little effort and either rejoice in the visual party or feel queasy in the jumbled proceedings. According to noted curator and writer Robert Storr, “Esber's work may be an acquired taste-or for those who begin with 'taste' in its conventional sense-an acquired tastelessness, but it is unapologetically rich in its own flavors and full of the surprises that attend not the marriage of reason and squalor but the well-plotted misalliance of fancy and funk.”

This fancy and funky exhibition represents the artist's first one-person museum exhibition and, as is consistent with the history of this organization, SECCA is pleased to be the first museum in the United States to celebrate his work.

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James Esber: American Delirium