Friday, July 3, 2009

Recommended: Douglas Coupland @ Clark & Faria

As soon as I saw his Warhol-riffing "Marilyn" prints done up with old beer labels, fruit stickers and skater decals, I was pretty sure I would like Douglas Coupland's latest Toronto show at Clark & Faria. And I was right.

In this outing, Coupland goes a little riotous--to strong effect--on the colour and materials end. In addition to the Marilyn redos, there are vertical sculptures made out of building blocks, wall pieces made out of pencil crayons, and paint-altered yearbook pics. All of these evoke a certain mix of public-school innocence and art-school cynicism that really seems to function well.

The objects Coupland chooses to work with--like the beer labels and skater stickers--also evoke a certain nostalgia for past eras, even for those of us who never got to drink a Molson Canadian with a 70s pop-art label, or whose most established link to skateboarding is inheriting a 1980s Westbeach tee. These choices most certainly connect to Coupland's strangely refined taste in Canuck design kitsch, which has been previously compiled in his "Souvenir of Canada" books.

Overall, these objects make for a more successful show, I think, than Coupland's previous exhibition at the gallery, which was pretty much a mashup of Penguin book covers and text pulled from pop-punk. That mix of the nostalgic design object and melancholy text is repeated here, especially with the block sculptures, which spell out things like "Hot Shit" and "Monsters Exist". But there's more aesthetic diversity here, more permutations of the experiment, which make it overall more appealing.

Also refreshing in comparison to the previous exhibition is Coupland's willingness to plumb and more explicitly integrate his personal history. A few collages integrate letters from his literary agents and publishers, and while the text is obscured there is something semi-self-revelatory or risky in it. Also upfront is Coupland's attempt to explore his pop-cult forbears--the Marilyn prints are titled "Matricide", and a series of framed Warhol wigs is titled "Patricide", while silkscreens of a young Bill Gates sing the idea of the geeky creative pop genius in a different key.

Granted, as with any exhibition, one wonders how much editing the gallery itself did on Coupland's studio practice. A darker set of porn-playing-card collages are located downstairs, a XXX contrast to the genteeler paperback covers of his previous body of work. Much less pop-arty, wallet-opening persuasion here.

Overall--though it's always dangerous to try and straight-read the work of an artist who is so adept at irony and self-reflexivity--I'd say I'm pleased to see Coupland more explicitly using art as a means to explore those always-big questions: Who am I? Where did I come from? What am I, my thoughts and creations, made up of? What about all that shit that happened in the past? Am I over it? Will I ever be? What about sex, love and related emotional mazes?

Art doesn't always have to be a kind of shell game, after all. No matter what big papa Warhol is famed for.

All images--Douglas Coupland's "Matricide with Beer Stickers"; "Fuck Off"; and "Matricide with Fruit Stickers" from Clark & Faria


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