If painting is a monologue, Bruce Helander's collages are a chattering classroom, where literary legends and academic facts get whispered in the same breath as irreverent jokes and the latest gossip. Helander's collages capture the humor, drama and romance of the American spirit, from its solid heart to its ADD brain.
Twenty works from the last 10 years of Helander's career show his abilities as poet, prankster, dramatist and pop culture critic. He incorporates vintage images with splices of language to create gestural and cohesive works that are pulsing with momentum. One piece cuts up and reworks an old Post cereal ad, another a 1930s Norman Rockwell illustration. Helander doesn't just mash up different media but different eras, narratives and artistic movements. He combines John Chamberlain's graceful destruction with the childlike innocence of a Sunday comic strip.
Helander, who is also the editor-in-chief of The Art Economist and is a blogger for the Huffington Post Arts, is no stranger to wordplay. Tricks traditionally employed on the page are translated into the visual realm like metaphor, double meaning and rambling joke. His posture in the thick of art history can be sensed through his work as well, although even his most historically informed pieces put their playful edge before their historical relevance. You don't need to know the background to enjoy the works... but it may enhance the experience.
For example, the off-kilter sculpture "Croaked Double Elvis" draws its title from Andy Warhol's "Double Elvis." Helander purchased plaster busts of the Rock-n-Roll king and buried them in his back yard for 2 years as they decomposed. He then dug up the heads and repainted them in a style more reminiscent of Warhol's Elizabeth Taylor than Elvis. The heads are propped on an antique chapel shelf and surrounded by cartoonish frogs. The display is as amusing as it is disconcerting, recalling the exciting yet nauseating experience of encountering an Elvis impersonator in a Vegas chapel.
Helander's works have the rare ability to cross-pollinate artistic movements and source texts without letting his works become stuffy or overcrowded. Some, like "High Heel Helper," resemble a surrealist film still with the disembodied legs stretching in high heels. "Bronco," however, brings an abstract expressionist energy to the deconstructed car painting. The exhibition does not just show what kind of art Helander makes but what kind of person he is: thoughtful, ambitious and maybe a bit of a wise guy.
"Bruce Helander – A Survey of Works" will show at Peter Marcelle Gallery from July 14 to July 23.
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