The irresistible forces of failure and the fear of bad luck are turned into paintings that are dumb at first glance but brilliant the more we keep looking. For instance, an anime-style painting of a male head with a huge erection for a hand, superimposed with varied patches of color suggesting a variety of vaginas, may demonstrate the difference between figuration (the phallus) and abstraction (the pussies).
Figuration gives us recognizable elements and signs that we can decode, while abstraction turns its back on us and blocks our view to prevent interpretation and resist narrative. Paradoxically, abstraction annihilates illusions and obliterates distractions, while figuration can mystify and delude. We can observe the hostility and intercourse between figuration and abstraction in the painting of a skunk giving a pink flower to a crocodile wearing a red painter’s hat and snacking on a fishbone. The crocodile rolls its eyes and looks jaded and world-weary, while the skunk seems hopeful and giddy, naive and oblivious of the crocodile’s disdain. A yellow butterfly flutters behind the crocodile. Below, a rat in blue shorts and leather shoes, hands in pockets looking bored and burned-out, is turned towards a little chick looking away in dismay, wearing similar leather shoes but is otherwise naked. An awkward tension seems to exist between the two but exactly what is happening cannot be determined since the image is upside down and painted over with various shapes of different colors, almost completely obstructing our view of the scene. What is clear is the text that reads, “Since I gave up hope I feel much better.”
The shallow and the deep are both apparent on the surface of the paintings. The picture of a monkey with hair shaved on parts of its body and pubic area, holding up an impossible triangle constructed out of poo, is evocative of Homo erectus’ discovery of fire – a turning point in human evolution. But the triangular turd is a discovery that we don’t know what to make of, whether it is useless or valuable. Though the act is a great leap in thought and imagination, it leaves us and the monkey none the wiser.
In another, cartoon-like picture, a naked woman holding a giant pair of scissors waiting for the peeper to poke his pecker through the peephole on a fence may be seen as a comment on the act of looking at art, and brings to mind Marcel Duchamp’s final opus, Étant donnés (roughly translated as Given). In this case, the naked female body is on the same side as the onlooker and instead of a gas lamp in her hand illuminating the way, she holds a pair of scissors that threaten to put the light out of the candle shining and towering on the other side, which she does not see.
As we can see, these paintings are devoted to the traditions of modern art and make use of familiar avant-garde elements such as the grid, the maze, and the brick wall. The grid is found in several of the paintings such as one that plays with surrealism where a hand crushes a beer can as if in triumph, muscles flexing and biceps bulging. Pine trees grow on the biceps, which could also be seen as a hill. Hovering above is an eyeball that could also be a full moon. In the center is an owl made of shells and below is a hospital urinal for patients who find it impossible to get out of bed. The images get out of the grid and do not stay behind the lines.
While multiple layers are commonly piled on the surface, the pictures go against complexity. One painting is initially of a classic motivational poster of a small kitten hanging on to a tree branch coupled with the catchphrase, “Hang in there baby.” This popular relic of the 1970s is used as the underpainting, layered over and almost completely obscured by an image of two prisoners hanging in chains wearing only tattered shorts. The prisoner on the right of the kitten seems horny and amused as he inserts his free foot down the pants of his companion, while the other guy is stunned and looks away, yet also somehow pleased to be preoccupied. His legs are splayed and he feels the pleasure yet feels embarrassed that he is pleasured. The naughty one doing the footsie is clean-looking and looks like a newbie prisoner, while the helpless guy being stimulated has overgrown facial hair and a bloated belly, and appears to have been hanging there for a while. This image is further painted over with an enlarged version of a shrunken head, a novelty item inspired by the headhunting Jivaro tribe of South America, famous for their practice of shrinking and preserving human heads taken in battle as a trophy. The hunted heads are shrunk to the size of a large orange and sewn along the lips. The souvenir version is attached to a string to be hung in the home or car. Beneath the shrunken head is a singing fish, a popular kitschy object that turns its head towards the spectator and sings kitschy cover songs when turned on. It is mounted on a plaque and typically hung on the wall like a taxidermy trophy. These layered images, evidently, have something to do with “hanging” and may refer to the hanging of paintings or pictures.
Paintings defy analysis and change meaning or evolve in idiocy at different times and different states. The more we look the more we know, and the more we know the more we don’t know. We know the look of losers and the picture of success. These pictures are successful in displeasing our sense of beauty, and raise philosophical questions that kill the buzz of glamour and glory. How do we solve the circular maze of art making and go beyond the dead ends of imagination? In Jayson Oliveria’s exhibition, After this, everything you do is wrong, the answers are given.
Masi Oliveria, 2015