DASHED OFF: Starr's Hold Me, Love Me
Ringo Starr was the best artist in the Beatles. And, I believe, the best artist to appear on Shining Time Station
too. (Sorry, George Carlin.) It feels really weird to say, but it's the undisputable conclusion I drew from seeing "Ringo Starr — Artist" at Chabot Fine Art Gallery (379 Atwells Avenue, Providence, through June 27). The exhibit presents prints by the former Beatles drummer as well as Paul McCartney, John Lennon, and . . . Al Hirschfeld, the celebrated caricaturist apparently filling in as the fifth Beatle.
Starr's prints here are best described as goofball digital doodles. Most of them are fish-lipped faces, like the red one with green lips and blue googly eyes printed on a drum head. They're drawn with heavy black outlines and filled in with bright artificial computer colors. "I started in the late '90s with my computer art," Starr has said. "While I was touring it gave me something to do in all those crazy hotels you have to stay in on the road." They look it.
A scrawl of a woman, with black hair, green eyes, and salmon face, scowls out from an acid yellow background. The title — a lyric from the Beatles song "Eight Days a Week" — is a punchline: Hold Me, Love Me. There are also a pink-faced chef who seems to be stoned or in a trance, a sleazy looking sleepy-eyed guy in a derby hat, an uncomfortable looking blonde, and a cute blue elfin character titled I Feel Blue. The faces are complimented by works featuring crisp poppy abstract patterns of ovals.
Lennon is represented by one Asian-influenced minimalist line portrait that appears to be of himself and Yoko. It angles to be laidback Zen, but comes across as lazy drivel. McCartney seems to be trying so hard to be serious and arty that his print of heads merging with a dun-colored abstract background ends up uptight and pretentious.
Starr's doodles say: I dashed these off while killing time, they amuse me, if you like them great, if not, no big deal. And that's what makes them work — you know, as far as they do. They're kind of lousy, but in Ringo's signature adorably charmingly unpretentious way.
The Chabot show is filled out by print reproducing a terrific Hirschfeld drawing of the early moptop Beatles. As always, he effortlessly nails the caricature in fine, flowing, sinewy dancing lines. Also check out some fun mid-century modern-style animation cels from the ditzy late '60s Beatles cartoon show.
REALISM AND ABSTRACTION: Taylor's exhibit at Stairwell.
Meanwhile, Quinn Taylor of Providence makes philosophical wisecracks about the nature of art in "1979-2009" at Stairwell Gallery (504 Broadway, Providence, through June 21). The art includes black-and-white paintings of classical sculpture; bucolic landscapes seemingly blotted out by large lopsided rectangles; shiny silver paint covering cockeyed quadrilateral canvases that look like glam Ellsworth Kelly covers; and paint slathered Abstract Expressionist-style on top of what seems like images of Earth from space. In the middle of the gallery is a sculpture of giant Groucho Marx-like nose and glasses titled In My Absence. They're all shot through with a dry, smart wit that tries to make you think but doesn't necessarily make you laugh.
Taylor's point seems to be formal — an exploration of the tension between realism and abstraction and, in turn, the very nature of art. You know: the painting of the earth from space is an illusion, while the physicality thick abstract paint splashed on top seems more real, more present. It looks a bit like David Salle (it's about time he was rediscovered) and recalls cerebral late 1970s/early '80s post-modern gags made by the so-called "Pictures Generation." This kind of stuff, which feels like it's coolly illustrating art theory, doesn't exactly draw me in, but Taylor is smart, thoughtful, and not a bad craftsman, so I expect this is just the beginning of interesting things from him.
Read Greg's blog @ gregcookland.com/journal.