Typically, when the artist headlining a show has a nerdy pseudonym, like “Invader,” “Shepard Fairey,” “Buff Monster,” “D*Face,” or “Dalek,” he (when is it not a guy?) is a massively famous muralist with a surreal bent. You’ll see vivid juxtapositions with a blend of the transcendantly gorgeous and the brutally mundane, an optical illusion delivering a deliciously complex fusion of light and dark emotions.
Didn’t really see that at Dalek’s Thinkspace show.
Thinkspace is pleased to present The Space Monkey Returns featuring new works by North Carolina-based artist James Marshall. This maniacally unhinged looking ball-shaped cartoon mouse, often seen wielding a blood dappled cleaver, is equal parts avatar, alter ego, and geometric abstraction. The figure became an emblem of sorts for the artist and a recurring protagonist used to convey themes in which he was interested. Space Monkey was a stand-in for the idea of the individual caught in a frenetic landscape of technology and misinformation, an obsequious reliance on tech “progress” Marshall felt would, presciently, it should be noted, reduce us all to “button pushers.”
So I guess a lot of people must know about this Space Monkey thingamajig? I was short on time. I was aiming to sprint across town to another show at another gallery I’d never been to before — I love how Saturday nights in L.A. are so full of possibilities! — so I had to prioritize. There were a few things along the wall that had no color and I ignored them. There were a few things that were tiny and I pretty much ignored those too. The rest looked like a storyboard for the upcoming Itchy & Scratchy feature film.
What I saw, instead of deliciously complex fusion, was this gaggle of menacing monsters, brandishing sharp things toward one side of the painting or another. The precise lines suggest geometry, architecture, and control above all.
Marshall’s practice has since evolved into a highly detailed form of neo-geo, or geometric abstraction, expertly executed with hard-edging and endless gradations of color. Each time-consuming panel can take upwards of 150 hours to paint and attests to the meticulous technical facility needed to create them.
It’s the suggestion of violence, but it stops short. It’s bloodless.
The reason it’s bloodless is that the there is no object to be menaced. The Space Monkeys are about to attack…something. We don’t know what, and we don’t know why. They’re just stabby. Then they’re stabby again in another painting, and stabby again over there, for some reason.
Aren’t you curious about the reason? Neither am I. Okay then.
The appeal of the Space Monkey conceit only works if the viewer is in on the joke, like if you’re aware that Dalek’s Space Monkey is a Thing and that Thing is what you came to see, doing its Thing. I was unaware until I checked Thinkspace’s website an hour ago. So.