Press Release

Joe Wardwell: Solo

September 10 - October 15, 2005

Reception: Saturday, September 10, 7 - 9pm

Artist's Talk: Postponed until Thursday, Sept. 29 @ 7 pm

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In the Green Street Gallery exhibition: "SOLO", Jamaica Plain artist Joe Wardwell presents the culmination of 5 years of work creating amazing hybrids of the music he grew up with and his favorite paintings from classical art history. The show is Wardwell’s first solo exhibition in Boston and features his most ambitious work to date: two, huge "altarpieces" which depict a pantheon of his music idols. Both of these six foot by five foot oil on canvas works place members of famous Rock 'n' roll and Heavy Metal bands, roadies lifting stacks of Marshall amps and nude groupies against a glowing, romantically clouded sky from a study by the Italian Baroque painter Giambattista Tiepolo. The poses of the loosely painted figures are borrowed from vintage album covers and seamlessly incorporated into a “super-group grouping” spiraling into the clouds.

Joe Wardwell, "Oblivion" (2005) (detail) oil on canvas 66 x 75 inches

Anyone who has argued with a friend over the choice of “the best rock album ever” or “favorite painting of all time" understands the intensely personal nature of picking favorites. The fun Wardwell has with his choice of subject matter for these paintings reveals his interest in both music and painting history. When Wardwell proclaimed, “there should be more rock’n’roll in contemporary painting!”, the irreverent surprise was that he choose Rock musicians as the people and Baroque or Rococo paintings as the place for each of his innovative works. Visually, the complex spiraling compositions look like they belong on the ornate ceilings of Old Europe, but culturally they are much closer to the sticky floors of New York. The artist uses his own reference library of Art History books and album covers to prove that the only real division between “High” and “Low” Culture is peculiarly personal, subjective and evolves over time.

Tiepolo (L) "Apotheosis of Aeneus" (c.1765) and Joe Wardwell, "Zoso" (2005) detail (R)

Joe brings together the elite study of classical art and the gritty street creds of growing up playing in a Heavy Metal band. But his love of both the “Old School” technique of working in oil on canvas and the pounding, two finger, Black Sabbath “power chord” is as equitable as it is genuine. Even though the description “Old School” fits more easily into a discussion of Led Zeppelin or AC/DC than it does for Tiepolo or Rousseau it underscores the focus of the exhibit: connoisseurship. Wardwell demonstrates that both Rock 'n' roll and Rococo painting are worthy of connoisseurship. And he successfully reminds us that it is just as fun to recognize the styles of European masters as it is to spot the tattooed torso of Henry Rollins -- especially in the same painting!

In other moderately scaled works depict individual bands that made history: Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, Slayer, Iggy Pop and AC/DC. The stylized flames and guitar outlines of his earlier work are evident in a series of mid-sized landscapes which are more tightly rendered than the figures in the large altarpieces. There is also a group of dimentional works which includes two sepia toned studies for Baroque scenes painted on full sized guitar-shaped panels which hang from a guitar rack. In all of these compositions the entertainment is seeing high and low cultures overlap: whether it is Molly Hatchet’s grim reaper riding in the background of a classical Rousseau forrest scene or Nirvana's baby chasing a dollar bill blending in with other cupids. Joe reminds us that we do that all the time: we heap all kinds of things we love from our cultural past into a category called “Classics”–from Classic oldies to Classic Rock to Classic Coke–-to pay homage to what stands the test of time. With this roster of iconography Wardwell has re-created a broad cultural phenomenon, observed first hand, and presents images gleaned from the public sphere in a way which remains surprisingly personal, absolutely sincere and a lot of fun.

-- James Hull, Curator

Wardwell also exhibited at Green Street in 1999 and at Allston Skirt in 2004


 Telephone: (617) 522-0000, 141 Green Street, Boston P.O. Box 301120, Boston, MA 02130