Birds shit wherever they want ‘cause they all know it’s crap down here.
Words by artist Ben Frost inscribed on his 2005 piece “Birds and Bad Things”
Artist Ben Frost hails from Australia and has spent time living in Japan. His subversive pop-art contains references to Japanese Manga as well as a myriad of well-know commercial images such as a box of McDonald’s famous french fries that has been layered with a erotic image of a Lichtenstein-esque looking woman being whipped by a proper female Victorian-era librarian during her off time. And that’s one of Frost’s more demure works of art.
Frost himself is as risky as his boundary-pushing paintings. In 2000 the artist faked his own death as a publicity stunt to promote his solo-show of the same name and invitations to the event consisted of Frost’s “faux funeral” notice. Later that same year a painting at the show “Colussus”—a collaboration with fellow artist Rod Bunter—was slashed apart by an attendee.
It’s not hard to understand how Frost’s work might stir some intense emotions with his confrontational art, because the concept of mixing propaganda with pornographic images, Dracula or Ren and Stimpy on a box of Epinephrine is perhaps a little out there for some people. However if everything about that statement makes perfect sense to you, then you’re going to really enjoy looking over the images of Frost’s work included in this post. From time to time Frost sells his artwork on his website Ben Frost IS DEAD.
Someone’s dead relatives just got a makeover. Artist Alex Gross takes discarded vintage photographs, paints on them and turns them into portraits of pop culture icons like Batman, Superman, Electra, Wonder Woman, Super Mario and Marge Simpson. These mixed media paintings raise questions about the relevance of history, family and memory in our neo-liberal consumerist world—where fictional characters have far more currency and longevity than familial ties or dead relatives.
The world that I live in is both spiritually profound and culturally vapid. It is extremely violent but can also be extremely beautiful. Globalization and technology are responsible for wonderfully positive changes in the world as well as terrible tragedy and homogeneity. This dichotomy fascinates me, and naturally influences much of my work.
I like Alex Gross’s paintings. I like his ideas. He is painting a narrative to our lives—and like all good art he is questioning our role within this story and the values we consider important in its telling. More of Alex Gross’ work can be seen here.
Pauline Boty was an artist, activist, actress and model. She was one of the leading figures of the British Pop art movement during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Her contemporaries were Peter Blake, Derek Boshier and David Hockney. But when Boty tragically died at the height of her fame in 1966, her work mysteriously disappeared. Not one of her paintings was exhibited again until 1993.
Boty was all but forgotten by the time a cache of her paintings was rediscovered on a farm in the English countryside in the early 1990s. The paintings had been stored in an old barn for safe-keeping by her brother. Their rediscovery placed Boty firmly back into the center of the Pop art boy’s club.
Throughout her life, Boty kicked against the men who tried to hold her back. Born into a Catholic family in 1938, her father (a by-the-book accountant) wanted his daughter to marry someone respectable and raise a family. Instead she chose to study art to her father’s great displeasure. In 1954, Boty won a scholarship to Wimbledon School of Art.
At college, Boty was dubbed the “Wimbledon Bridget Bardot” because of her blonde hair and film star looks. She went onto study lithography and stained glass design. However, her desire was to study painting. When she applied to the Royal College of Art in 1958, it was suggested by the male tutors that she would be more suited studying stained glass design as there were so few women painters. Though Boty enrolled in the design course she continued with her ambitions to paint.
Encouraged by the original Pop artist Eduardo Paolozzi, Boty began painting at her apartment. Her makeshift studio soon became a meeting point for her friends (Derek Marlowe, Celia Birtwell) and contemporaries (Blake, Boshier, Hockney and co) to meet, talk and work. Boty started exhibiting her collages and paintings alongside these artists and her career as a painter commenced.
In 1962, Boty was featured in a documentary about young British pop artists Pop Goes the Easel alongside Peter Blake, Derek Boshier and Peter Phillips. The film was directed by Ken Russell who created an incredibly imaginative and memorable portrait of the four artists. Each was given the opportunity to discuss their work—only Boty did not. Instead she collaborated with Russell on a very prescient dream sequence.
It opens with Boty laying out her paintings and drawings on the floor of a long circular corridor—actually the old BBC TV Center. As she examines her work a group of young women appear behind her. These women walk all over her artwork. Then from out of an office door, a nightmarish figure in a wheelchair appears and chases Boty along the seemingly endless twisting corridors. Boty eventually escapes into an elevator—only to find the ominous figure waiting inside.
Her performance in Russell’s film led to further acting roles—in Alfie with Michael Caine, with James Fox on the stage, Stanley Baxter on television and again with Russell in a small role opposite Oliver Reed in Dante’s Inferno. Boty was photographed by David Bailey, modeled for Vogue, regularly appeared as an audience dancer on Ready, Steady, Go!, and held legendary parties at her studio to which everyone who was anyone attended—from the Stones to Bob Dylan. Boty was the bright flame to whom everyone was attracted.
She was a feminist icon—living her life, doing what she wanted to do, and not letting men from hold her back. But the sixties were not always the liberated decade many Boomers would have us believe. Boty’s critics nastily dismissed her as the Pop art pin-up girl. The left-wing party girl. A dumb blonde. Of course, they were wrong—but shit unfortunately sticks.
Boty’s work became more politically nuanced. She criticised America’s foreign policy in Vietnam; dissected the unacknowledged sexism of everyday life; and celebrated female sexuality. She had a long affair with the director Philip Saville—which allegedly inspired Joseph Losey’s film Darling with Dirk Bogarde and Julie Christie. Then after a ten day “whirlwind romance” Boty married Clive Goodwin—a literary agent and activist. She claimed he was the only man who was interested in her mind.
In 1965, Boty was nearing the top of her field when she found she was pregnant. During a routine prenatal examination, doctors discovered a malignant tumor. Boty refused an abortion. She also refused chemotherapy as she did not want to damage the fetus. In February 1966, Boty gave birth to a daughter—Boty Goodwin. Five months later in July 1966, Pauline Boty died. Her last painting was a commission for Kenneth Tynan’s nude revue Oh! Calcutta! called “BUM.”
Pauline Boty in her studio holding the painting ‘Scandal’ in 1963.
‘A Big Hand’ (1960).
More of Pauline Boty’s paintings plus Ken Russell’s ‘Pop Goes the Easel,’ after the jump…
“Superheroes” bacteria art made with Streptomycetes (bacteria spores that live in the dirt)
All “ewww’s” aside, I must say that the first (and I’m sure not the last) “Agar Art” contest held by The American Society for Microbiology (whose guidelines specified that entrants create art using only bacteria), has yielded some incredible results.
A segment of the massive “NYC Biome Map” made with bacterial microbes (by microbiologist, Christine Marizzi)
According to the rules, all creations must be made using only microbes instead of paint (or other materials) and agar as their canvas. There were 85 entries submitted by various microbiologists across the country for this art meets biology mashup. Of the ones I’ve seen so far, I was blown away (and a bit grossed out I must admit) by the NYC Biome Map submitted by Christine Marizzi of New York City’s Community Biolab (above). Just read the description of the piece and you’ll likely feel the same way:
Microorganisms reside everywhere, yet they are too small to be seen with the human eye. New York City is a melting pot of cultures - both human and microbial - and every citizen has a personalized microbiome. Collectively, we shape NYC’s microbiome by our lifestyle choices, and this unseen microbial world significantly impacts us
I say grossed out because probably like many of you, I’ve ridden the NY subway system (as well as the equally skanky Boston “T”) hundreds of times before and learned pretty quickly to never touch ANYTHING with your hands. That said, Marizzi’s piece is nothing short of a marvel to look at considering how it was created.
Pop bacteria art in the image of Divine!
More strange and trippy looking biological pieces of art from the contest (that might also bring out the obsessive/compulsive hand-washer in you) can be seen after the jump…
Corita Kent—known as Sister Mary Corita until her departure from religious servitude in 1968—is one of the great unsung trailblazers of pop art. As chair of the arts department at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles, Sister Mary Corita’s approach to arts pedagogy touched Saul Bass, Alfred Hitchcock, Buckminster Fuller, Charles and Ray Eames, and John Cage (whom she quotes in her famous “10 Rules for Students,” below). Her work is known for its political content and explicitly anti-war messaging, but there’s more to her artistic legacy than her identity as a radical nun.
Although her most public pieces are a really bad stamp and a giant natural gas tank of the same ilk, they pale in comparison to her larger body of work—primarily serigraphs (multi-colored screen prints). She used bright shades, thick lines, deconstructed advertising design and erratic typography. She often including literary quotes or her own poetry in scrawl, producing elegant political messaging without heavy-handedness, sanctimony or literalism. The work is bold, triumphant and sometimes spiritual, but never preachy.
Corita Kent died of cancer in 1986 in Boston, where she relocated after leaving the order. She would have been 96 today. I highly recommend you give her classroom rules below a look, and check out the short 1967 documentary, We Have No Art, at the end of the post for her brilliant insight into the creative process.
RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for awhile.
RULE TWO: General duties of a student — pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.
RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher — pull everything out of your students.
RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.
RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined — this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.
RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.
RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.
RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.
RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.
RULE TEN: “We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.” (John Cage)
HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything — it might come in handy later.
“Come Alive,” 1967.
From the “Circus Alphabet” series, 1968. Kent made multiple prints of this particular Camus quote.
Silver Camels, 2013
Discarded Camel cigarette packages on linen
Probably the strangest thing about the artist Robert Larson is that none of the writeups of his work that I’ve seen bother to say whether he smokes or not. Not knowing anything else about it, I’d surmise that he does, but so much emphasis is placed on the role of “scavenging” in his work that I have to assume he does not smoke. Which is a little weird! So Larson spends hours and hours walking around his hometown of Santa Cruz, California, where he collects discarded cigarette packs and other ephemera in order to create his striking geometrical collages. It seems an intriguing variant of pop art in which the actual mass-produced product is incorporated in the art. After all, Andy Warhol didn’t use actual Brillo boxes, he made them. Larson’s cut out the middle man here.
Larson’s work is interesting because it’s almost too aesthetic and/or beautiful to land any particular point about the dangers of lung cancer, if such is even his aim. And to be honest, that’s the right approach because the links between smoking and disease are, after all, very well known. But to take such depressing subject matter and turn them into a pleasing piece of art, that’s more impressive.
Red Flower with Gold, 2010
Discarded cigarette packages, encaustic on linen
Discarded Marlboro cigarette packages on paper
Green Triangles, 2012
Discarded Newport cigarette packages, encaustic on linen
Gold Flower with Red, 2010
Discarded cigarette packages, encaustic on linen
Red Honey, 2008
Discarded Marlboro cigarette packages, encaustic on linen
Discarded cigarette packaging on canvas
Meditations On Top, 1997-2007
Discarded Top rolling paper packaging on linen
Discarded white-generic matchbooks on linen
Blue Honey, 2010
Discarded Marlboro packaging on linen
Slow Burn, 2007
Discarded Zig Zag rolling papers on linen