We are pleased to present an exhibition of recent paintings and works on paper by James Esber, his sixth one-person show with Pierogi. The title of this exhibition, based on the infamously incorrect headline printed on the November 3rd, 1948 Daily Chicago Tribune front page, plays with both the notion of misinformation, misdirection, false assumptions, and the whiff of Americana history that often fuels Esber’s work.
“The sparks that drive my work are the pawed-over icons of popular culture, some stuck in my head since childhood. The list includes sugary-sweet Hummel figurines, cowboys, war photos, crushed cars, pornography, and Tricky Dick Nixon. Gathering these images and subjecting them to a variety of digital contortions, I remake them as paintings and drawings through a process of hyperbolic mark-making. When you look at my paintings, you’re looking at images resurrected and reconstructed.” (Esber)
Esber’s image sources have cultural currency but also personal resonance. Boy With Five Legs, for example, while based on a familiar children’s book illustration of a boy on a hunting trip, can also be seen as a portrait of Esber’s nuclear family of five. Hunters, depicting a man and boy, references not only Esber’s relationship with his father but also to his own son. Another painting, Thinker, originates with a Rodin bronze sculpture, The Thinker, installed in front of The Cleveland Museum of Art and partially blown apart in 1970 in protest of the Vietnam war. The work was subsequently returned to its place in front of the museum in its damaged state. Esber often passed this sculpture while attending the adjacent Cleveland Institute of Art and the image of the figure rising out of the shredded metal stuck with him.
In these recent works, carefully shaped brushstrokes boisterously assert their position and presence on the painted surface while at the same time mixing into a bubbling stew of uncertainty in pictorial space. In Girl Up a Tree the floating marks of both figure and ground swirl together in a windy tempest. In Lincoln Noface, the boundaries of representation are faithfully marked by following the outer contours of the figurative source only to diverge radically toward its center, creating passages of pure abstraction which demand to be recognized as real. In the most recent work watery washes of color pool in less controlled ways, allowing chance to partner with seasoned muscle memory to create new riffs on some of the classics of American iconography.
James Esber’s work has been included in numerous exhibitions, including a one-person show at The Aldrich Museum (“Your Name Here”). He received a BFA from the Cleveland Art Institute and studied at Skowhegan, ME and Temple University in Rome, Italy. He is the recipient of a NYFA Fellowship award, a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, and has participated in residencies such as MacDowell Colony and Yaddo, among others.