Stuart Netsky, ‘Walking Backwards into the Future’ at Gross McCleaf Gallery

In this function by Clayton Campbell, we’re released (and for some of us re-released) to Stuart Netsky, a seminal Philadelphia artist and arts educator who has demonstrated commonly in the Town, although not not long ago. Netsky’s new operates at Gross McCleaf Gallery were sparked by the pandemic, as lots of of his earlier functions circled all over the AIDS epidemic. Be confident to study this wonderful function about an significant neighborhood artist and operate to see the exhibit, which finishes this Saturday, March 25, 2023.

A colorful photo-montage in four side-by-side panels shows (l-r) a closeup of a yellow tropical flower in full bloom; a detail of the goddess Diana from a Boucher painting; a red, gold and green scraped painting detail by Gerhard Richter; and a detail of a fractal image with Mandelbrot edges.
Stuart Netsky, Diana After the Hunt (Following Boucher), 2022, 17” x 22”, Digitally Manufactured Print, Version 1 of 5. Courtesy of Gross McCleaf Gallery and Rebecca Segall

The arc of Stuart Netsky’s apply has so significantly been bookended by the AIDs epidemic and the COVID pandemic. A extensive-time resident and very well regarded artist in Philadelphia, his latest exhibition Strolling Backward into the Foreseeable future, at Gross McCleaf Gallery as a result of March 25th, manifests the charming and incisive continuum of an eclectic, refined artmaker.

Netsky’s first big present in Philadelphia was his 1993 tour de pressure exhibition Time Flies at the Institute for Present-day Artwork (ICA). He arrived out swinging, filling the location with objects, installations, and photos, which squarely tackled the AIDS epidemic. In 1992, AIDS was the leading result in of demise in the United States for adult males aged 25-44. Discrimination and ignorance of HIV and in direction of homosexual adult males was rampant and irrational, not unlike the repressive political agendas that are on the rise once more and aimed towards the LGBTQTIA+ population. Netsky’s demonstrate was an crucial minute in the crucible of Philadelphia modern artwork historical past.

Stuart’s reaction to that crisis established his exclusive voice. His observe observed resource product in common tradition, domestic configurations, and by critiquing Western artwork heritage. His use of elements was revolutionary and unusual. Through his job several works have been fabricated with medicines typically used to management stress and anxiety, fears, or ailment like vitamin C, valium, and AZT. Some of his installations integrated big hand knitted blankets, or latex-included and vinyl-upholstered mirrors and chairs a assortment of silver print pictures or What Ought to I Use, a sequence of self-portraits in which he designs women’s outfits he felt relaxed and lovely in. Trend has been a regular and significant influence in his operate. He designed paintings with nail polish, lipstick and make-up, or billboard sparkles. His do the job has varied commonly in its plentiful embrace of materiality, gravitating toward what was surprising of white male artists. There normally was a good quality in Netsky’s operate that, no matter the seriousness of his subject matter, was mitigated by a dash of color, camp, and a bit transgressive pleasurable.

Total, Netsky would say that he has been concerned much more precisely with elegance, ailment and ageing. Covid unquestionably gave him time to ponder these strategies, while sequestered indoors and not able to partake in public events. So he dove into study that has crystallized his interests in domestic life, popular society, and Western art history in the new human body of do the job on see at Gross McCleaf. He now has a fascination with François Boucher, the French painter whose work embodies the Rococo design. One particular of the most celebrated painters and attractive artists of the 18th century, Boucher’s paintings have all the things Netsky was on the lookout for coloration, romance, and sentiment. But for him, here is a caveat these things are short lived. In time, they fade and die, as we all do. To accentuate this experience Netsky juxtaposes cropped visuals from Boucher paintings with microscopic visuals of microbes or flowers. These combinations reinforce the actuality for Netsky that we are all susceptible and will succumb. Covid was a big component in his choice to include these visuals in this operate. Nevertheless the vibrancy of color and the abstraction of the microscopic micro organism are the mitigating things that produce a tenuous atmosphere for the viewer.

The exhibition functions a sequence of electronic prints demonstrating Netsky’s slice and paste photomontage methodology. In Diana Soon after the Hunt (just after Boucher), the photo frame is divided into four vertical panes , with the far still left impression of an orchid up coming to a portion of the Boucher portray of Diana. Juxtaposed to this is a red paint smear from a Gerhard Richter portray and on the much correct a psychedelic graphic of fractals from a Mandelbrot set. These things bang up against just about every other in an uncanny but complementary way. In yet another digital print, Spring (soon after Boucher), the vertical sections involve from remaining to right a detail of the sculpture Cupid and Psyche by Antonio Canova, Boucher’s Spring painting with a pink strip from a Brigette Riley portray masking the heads of the figures a microscopic impression of microorganisms, and an additional component of Boucher’s Spring portray. By melding these disparate factors with each other Netsky orchestrates his personal poetry and lyricism from a life span of sensing the vitality in what other individuals might take into account disregarded, disparaged, and disowned.

Netsky explained to me, for the duration of Covid “I rewatched the movie Sunset Boulevard for the tenth time, and in advance of that I rewatched Suddenly Past Summer, for the tenth time, and tonight I strategy to rewatch Valley of the Dolls, for the tenth time. I find in these films the intersection of magnificence, camp and condition, whether or not physical or psychological. Cinema inspires my art follow as there is a cinematic enhancing that occurs in the new operate, and this enhancing is a machine I use to splice the imagery that movie, artwork background and other resources supply.”

A colorful photo and mixed media collage features an image from a 19th C painting of the goddess Diana after hunting a rabbit and a bird, sitting on luxurious velvet cloths taking off her sandals while members of her retinue look on; however, anachronistic images of Elizabeth Taylor and the fur-lined teacup of Surrealist Meret Oppenheimer and the actual antlers of a deer add cacophony and dissonance to the image.
Stuart Netsky, Diana and Liz Soon after the Hunt, 2016-2023, 40” x 60”, Mixed Media. Courtesy of Gross McCleaf Gallery and Rebecca Segall

It might describe why, in his huge combined media operate Diana and Liz Soon after the Hunt, there is an impression of Elizabeth Taylor from the film Out of the blue Very last Summer. This piece provides insights into how disparate concepts, movie stills, objects, and visuals from art record appear together into a jumble Netsky then edits and splices collectively. In the rectangular painting, a photograph of youthful Elizabeth Taylor looms in the foreground. Future to Liz, Meret Oppenheim’s fur coated surrealist tea cup is slyly involved into the tableau. Diana and her consort lounge powering, their gowns fluttering in the breeze. A pair of deer antlers are affixed to the head of Diana and adhere out and above the frame. The done piece feels like a publish pop reverie, a mirage, a collecting of vanished Goddesses along with their sensibilities of gracefulness. Though Netsky wrestles with reduction and inevitable decay as leitmotifs in his function, he still finds place for his innate humor and fragile optimism to come across a way in. This is an inconceivable operate, unanticipated, and a robust a single in the exhibit at the gallery.

Going for walks Backward into the Foreseeable future has a amount of distinct mixed media operates that characteristic skate decks preset on to substantial canvases. At initially look, a single may well marvel why now, considering the fact that skate decks have been applied by quite a few other artists. Artists have liberally imprinted their operate on skate decks, appropriating street society, and then marketed them in museum present outlets as higher priced constrained version swag. This is the point of Netsky’s skate deck perform. He has no certain interest in skate decks per se. It is far more about his fascination with retail promoting and the “exit by means of the present shop” phenomena that has grow to be the conclusion activity of the company museum working experience. Netsky finds the assortment of presents staggering. Though the crass commercialism of it angered him at 1st, experience it cheapened the aesthetic knowledge one may possibly have had, he adopted this substantial artwork industry capitalist tactic for his very own uses. He started to develop installations in conjunction with the theme of his exhibits, providing a large assortment of self-made goods like ashtrays, pillows, scarves and flooring mats.

A bright, colorful image shows two horizontal lozenges that are skate decks, with images on them, the top, a lush and sexy mythological scene by the painter of Romantic works, Boucher, and in a jarring juxtaposition, the bottom lozenge/skate deck shows a black and white image of Candy Darling on her death bed from AIDS, while in the background is a golden tapestry from what looks like the French Court of Louis XIV, with white powdered wig on the woman being carried by two liveried servants wearing dress coats and tricorn hats.
Stuart Netsky, Sweet Go Evenly, 2015, 38” x 38”, Mixed media. Courtesy of Gross McCleaf Gallery and Rebecca Segall

Around 2014, he began to see editions of skate decks. Artists like Cindy Sherman, Paul McCarthy, Robert Longo, Marilyn Minter, Louise Bourgeois, and Damien Hirst capitalized on the skate deck fad. Netsky made a decision to make some of his possess personalized decks, however for different good reasons. Emblematic of this series is Candy Go Evenly. Netsky identified an untitled rococo type tapestry at a flea current market, which became the qualifications. He attached two skate decks embedded into the tapestry. The upper deck is emblazoned with an graphic from Boucher’s Pan and Syrinx, whilst the bottom has a picture by Peter Hujar of Candy Darling on her Deathbed. All of Netsky’s themes, irrespective of whether business intake, decline, fashion, romanticism, decay, glamor, or art history, are bundled jointly in this function. He functions in distinctive collection, and as he has created, “creating a nuts quilt of pictorial eclecticism that obscures our means to make sense of the image, acting as a metaphor for the confusion and shifting dichotomies in social interactions.”

Some of this is apparent as Netsky pokes some much essential enjoyable at the male gaze in Have Your Cake and Eat It Also (Following Fragonard). The central determine of the lady on the swing is getting ogled by two men, a single of whom seems to be searching up her skirt. A substantial marriage cake protrudes from the surface of the canvas. It is placed about her crotch. If a line could be traced from the gentleman’s pointing finger up her skirt, it goes straight to her vagina. Fragonard and Boucher, probably purveyors of the 1800’s variation of tender porn, are sent up by Netsky in this hilarious and genuine piece.

Netsky, an essential artist in Philadelphia and to the national cultural canon, sights himself as a singular artist, who embraces nostalgia and romanticism for their tender and universal sensibilities to counter the inundation of imagery and details that bombards us, to deflect the absurdity he activities in contemporary lifestyle.

Treat yourself to Netsky’s get the job done, up by means of March 25, at Gross McCleaf Gallery.

Clayton Campbell is an artist and writer living and doing work in Philadelphia.

For earlier Artblog protection of Stuart Netsky, we suggest these posts: life-stuart-netsky-beneath-the-pores and skin/