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John Myers: Turbulence

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader

2008-04-08


The work of John Myers first caught my eye probably about three years ago when I saw one of his paintings while visiting my friend Beckie Stockert, who was renting from Myers at the time. I remember thinking that his paintings looked oddly tormented and happy at the same time, but had a specific sort of anxious happiness. I was then impressed when I saw his paintings twice last month in the “Alphabet Show” and “Phantasmagoria.” While still being fraught with chaotic forms and cartoonish colors, I could see a clear advance in technique taking form in virtuoso brushwork, creating frothing water, glassed interiors, feathers, and translucent cloths, in incredibly rich compositions, done fully in oils.

Upon entering Myers’ studio, which is currently in a former asylum of sorts near the IPFW campus, I was inundated by the complexity of the four paintings he was currently working on, and the “finished” pieces leaning against the wall. I say “finished” because Myers said that he rarely feels content with his paintings and just keeps working until he gets the need to start another. He describes his paintings as “never busy enough,” and personally therapeutic to him (repeatedly painting these amazing plane-like machines to push against his fear of flying). My fascination with his work continued when I found that he has only taken two classes in painting, taught by Ken Hopper, when attending Huntington College. Myers describes his formidable natural talent as “fighting the paint.” Another particularly revealing statement from Myers: “(I) can’t talk well because everything comes at once.” This problem with communication and with focusing allows him easy access into a vibrant visual vocabulary where he can make the canvas pulsate with color and structure. This rapid poetry cycles over and over again, always keeping the eye searching, asking for order.

Myers’ cites his influences as being “Carl Miller, Jay Bastian, the Masters, and random Myspace art.” He tends to reject any specific artistic style, which is quite apparent in the novelty of his paintings; however, historically, many of his works can be broken down into an intricate web of stylized conventions. Myers’ work has an abstract expressionist flare to it with its dramatic forms spiraling through the picture plane. Its brisk existential questioning also resonates with postwar art. However, instead of accentuating the two dimensionality of the canvas like a Pollack or Newman painting, Myers creates a multidimensional space where the viewer never really knows where up and down are, but is certain of the valuable depth, which is inhabited by numerous interrelated forms. These forms are in a constant state of motion, many times seemingly inflicting damage upon each other. Roberto Matta’s work also comes to mind, since he was one of the connections between Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. Myers’ work mirrors Matta’s use of bright colors, and that ever-present sense of chaos. However, the work isn’t quite Surreal, because he does not reference his dreams or the collective unconscious for his compositions. In fact, Myers’ paintings are representative of the way that he sees the world.

The work most easily lends itself to the Young British Artists of the late eighties and early nineties. These artists, like Cecily Brown, Glenn Brown, and Sarah Lucas had a cool irreverence for artistic traditions and “shopped around,” taking little bits from many different types of art. They also used humor through irony, sarcasm, and hyperbole, as well as tapping into the dark side of consumerism, showing humanities unending hunger for more of everything. Myers’, like these artists, deftly questions theories of abstraction and figuration, merges the last 60 years of painting styles, plays with tens of colors in every square inch of painting, and does it all while keeping a kind smile as he opens the door to his crazy house-now-studio.

The most meaningful aspect of his works is the way that they hold their own, without the artist there to hold their hand. These pieces are lighthearted while confidently making themselves present, engaging the viewer on many levels and making you question more than understand them. In the end, his paintings make you question the roles, future, and possibilities of art itself, the most purposeless and most important of human activities.

The four paintings waiting for more work, all untitled at the moment, can be described as somewhat apocalyptic Dr. Seuss environments, where half mechanical/half natural behemoths smash and careen through land, air, and water. These hybrid constructions can resemble anything from planes and helicopters, to factories and trains. They seem to take the incarnate form of man’s presence in nature both imitating it, while simultaneously destroying it. Like vanitas paintings of the past, they can be seen as scenes of death and decadence, reminders that our actions have consequences.

One particular painting, with a very definable “R subway train” traveling through the center, was completed in a month long trip that he took over the last summer, staying in Brooklyn for a month. This piece differs slightly from the others as having a very clear hierarchy of spaces, from the netherworld of the train the landscape above, and the fantastic ships with wings and sails and machine parts hovering above the rest making the image very heavy.

Somehow, John Myers, well overdue for a solo exhibition, has successfully flown under the radar, even in the mostly underground art world here, and has only been in three shows thus far. While Myers’ stays incredibly humble, saying that he is just trying to figure things out, he is efficiently turning out these involved, sublime, and capricious paintings. It is a wonder that galleries and collectors are not working with him.

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