If you’ve been a follower of this site for a while now, you probably noticed that we like objects. It’s not that there’s a general aversion to conceptual, performance, or installation art here (as we’ve actually covered a few in recent months); more just that paintings, illustrations, sculptures, et al, look better on the internet. This is, after all, a website about visual art and any writer, after a while, tires of their own expository voice. So, hey, let’s get to looking!

I confess, I myself am especially allured by the overtly-mannered, knotty, droopy, drippy, collaged style of artisans like Basil Wolverton and Guiseppe Arcimboldo. Contemporary NYC artist Frank Magnotta falls somewhere between the two.

His figural busts push the limits of portraiture, much like other recent artists working in this style, including critics-darling Erik Parker, outsider artist C.J. Pyle, and little-known French painter Andre Martins de Barros. To limit such a list to just these would be ludicrous; there are literally thousands influenced, each in their own way, by the distorted possibilities engendered in caricature.

What makes Magnotta’s work stand out?

For one, he’s highly symbolic. The artist hides brand logos and words inside most of his illustrations, often building portraits around the notion that we are all modern Frankensteins of pop culture. It is, for Magnotta, a double-edged sword. On the one hand, pop culture is its own form of cultural reductionism; on the other, it’s just bad caricature of the truth and is often so distorted so as to make the modern hominid a cipher of meaninglessness.

Alas, Magnotta takes a sad song and makes it better, just as vaudeville comedians such as W.C. Fields and Groucho Marx were wont to do. We can rant and rave, cry our eyes out, resort to violence, or worse yet, end our own lives. But why? As Walt Whitman once wrote: “Let them that distrust birth and death lead the rest.” Magnotta chooses life and laughter. We’d be wise to follow him. (Brian Chidester)

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