“Natural”, Keegan Mchargue’s debut exhibition at Gallery Wendi Norris, demonstrates his flexibility in transcending the limitations of new materials and synthesizing wide ranging ideas. The several dozen paintings, works on paper and two sculptures in “Natural” reflect an eclectic adventure, imagery springing from the artist’s diverse interests and varied investigations. Everything from pop and punk music to snippets of art history (Cezanne, Gaugin, Matisse and Picasso all exert themselves in sublimated ways) to McHargue’s interest in design and branding, to more emotional and personal subject matter; the artist pulls his inspiration from all corners of culture with no real adherence to a hierarchy when it comes to image making. A toilet, a cartoon figure, abstract pattern or imagery from a magazine advertisement may carry similar weight to nuanced ideas by intellectual heavyweights like Walter Benjamin, Edward Bernays or Dave Hickey.
After years of focus on concept-driven shows, Mchargue has ultimately returned to his long held love of surface, playing with a 21st century reinvention of Romanticism. Humor remains, sometimes through his happy timeless characters, the Foibles. His art, which has always manipulated scale and repetition, now appears more abstract, the visual analogue of a concrete kind of poetry, jazz-like exercises in improvisation, each gesture inter-related to most others.
Portions of other works may be scaled up or down and reappear in a new piece, creating fresh reworkings, reinventions of familiar themes. An interest in immediate satisfaction manifests through the collision of high formalism and a kind of loose, irreverent disregard for convention. Self-taught McHargue has shown in recent years at galleries in New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Vienna and Tokyo. His writing and interviews have appeared in The Believer and Beautiful Decay and his art resides in the permanent collections of MoMA, SFMoMA and the Judith Rothschild Foundation, among others.
This exhibition is accompanied by a 20 page catalogue with essay by Matt Gonzalez and a response to McHargue’s work in poetry by Dale Pendell. Matt Gonzalez is a collage artist, lawyer, and politician living in San Francisco. Poet Dale Pendell is the author of Pharmako/Gnosis: Plant Teachers and the Poison Path, The Great Bay: Chronicles of the
Collapse, and other books.