The Nostalgic Pop of Grear Patterson’s Manhattan Beach

by Corinna Kirsch on January 27, 2015 Reviews

marlborough gallery

Installation view. Photo courtesy Marlborough Broome Street.

Grear Patterson: Manhattan Beach
Marlborough Broome Street
331 Broome Street
Runs through February 15, 2015

What’s on view: Upstairs, solid-colored paintings made from patterns found from the artist’s large collection of Hawaiian shirts and photographs of his surroundings. Downstairs, a backyard-size pool with two toy boats.

Are 1960s sitcoms such as the Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island ingrained in our collective consciousness? By the looks of this exhibition, Grear Patterson thinks so. At Marlborough Broome Street, his painted tropical landscapes and domestic photographs imagine a “universal experience” of none other than an ideal suburban vacation. Inside the gallery, a tall, paint-by-number scene of cobalt-blue mountains and a beige sky is the first work you’ll see. Parallel to this lonely island, we see two television-size photographic prints (stretched around the frame) of a tree-lined driveway to a one-story home, and a child’s toy mountain lion perched on a paper-bag mountain, surrounded by a plastic toy castle. None of these pictures tell a narrative, but they loosely approximate paradise, both at home and across the ocean. Some of us will take whatever earthly heaven we can get.

The second room drove home the limits to Patterson’s universal experience of suburbia: it’s male-oriented, and of a certain era. There’s a print of Hardy Boys books on a shelf and another of a male pilot at work on a private plane. I imagine a late-series Don Draper, wearing a Hawaiian T-shirt, having flashbacks involving any of these images on the wall. Not that all the photos come from the suburban masculine; there’s also a print of a volleyball net and ketchup-and-mustard colored windowsill. They all seem dated, though. While Grear Patterson (born 1988) may attempt to provide snapshots of our universal dreams, the exhibition is lacking in global relevance. Some of his paintings, of the Hawaiian T-shirts, have been made from memory; that might explain the inherent nearsightedness of presenting one’s personal vision. For me, these images sit on a thin border between the bland and generic, lacking any value to me, nostalgic or otherwise.

Overall, I’m at a loss with what to make with this work. Is the paint-by-number aesthetic meant to be pop,  a reference to Andy Warhol, or more recently, fashion/art crossover Trey Speegle? The paint itself has been applied in such a flat way as to seem straightforward rather than kitsch; perhaps this nostalgic approach has more in common with, say, Lucien Smith’s “Tigris” painting series, which presents large, abstract designs created from stencils that reference his childhood memories. There are, and have been a ton of contemporary artists whose work falls into this territory of nostalgic pop. It’s hard to say why we need more of them.

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