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Tracey Harnish

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Big Felt Bears

Posted: 02/14/2012 5:52 pm

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Now is Enough, James Gobel, 2011. Felt, yarn, acrylic and rhinestones on canvas. Courtesy Steve Turner Contemporary

My first impression of James Gobel's work? Cartoons about gay men. Wait, are those bears? Is that intentional? By the time I got to "Now is Enough" (see above), I was completely charmed. No mere cartoon here. The work is made entirely with felt. Using acrylics like dye, the colors are incredibly dense and vibrant. Yarn is used like embroidery and rhinestones are the final embellishment. Gobel places his characters in settings that range from the fantastical to cartoonish realism. Delicate details like crystal blue eyes and long stemmed eyelashes, make Gobel's big bear men sweet and innocent.

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Always Thought Life Should Be So Easy/Nothing I Do Can Seem To Please Me, James Gobel, 2011. Felt, yarn, acrylic and rhinestones on canvas. Courtesy Steve Turner Contemporary

The perfect setting for a big bear made of felt is in the middle of a flowery field. With eyes lifted to the heavens, thoughts of Jesus and hobbits come to mind. This idealized sweetness is throughout the work and is displayed with small flourishes like exquisite flowers, extended pinkies, rhinestone bracelets and ornamental curls. There are hints of darkness with Cabaret settings and Don Barchardy portraits.

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Room For Doubt (featuring Maysha Mohamedi), James Gobel, 2011. Felt, yarn, acrylic and rhinestones on canvas. Courtesy Steve Turner Contemporary

It is this contradiction of big bearded men with subtly rosy cheeks, in purple plaid shirts and pink underwear, that is bewitching. Gobel turns the big man inside out, showing you the cuddly bear that hibernates within. The title of Gobel's pink plaid bean bag chair from 2010, "I Can't Let it Out, I Can't Keep it In," perfectly describes these men and the contrast of our ideas about what big hairy men should be and the endless individualism that actually exists.

The show runs through March 10 at Steve Turner Contemporary.