This exhibition brings together two separate but related bodies of work that James Esber has pursued for the past two years. Long interested in appropriating imagery from the media and popular culture, Esber has focused his recent work on our relationship with individuals who live primarily in media space, and in particular on the way that the media both amplifies and distorts those who are in the spotlight.
In the This is not a portrait series, the artist has asked over 130 friends and acquaintances to redraw one of his own drawings of Osama bin Laden. Esber first filtered the photographic “truth” of bin Laden through his own calligraphic drawing process, then passed the result through the skills, beliefs, and temperament of others. Much like a game of “Telephone,” the bin Laden drawing project explores the way that both transmission and repetition change meaning.
Esber has been using colored Plasticine clay as a painting medium for almost fifteen years, and this exhibition brings together six portrait-based works done in this unusual material. LightblueMichael, Esber’s first celebrity portrait (done in 2006), is joined by five recent portraits depicting individuals whose fame is based in fleeting media obsession, such as “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who ditched a passenger plane into the Hudson River
Esber’s portraits exhibit an animated optical quality, where the images alternate in and out of legibility. At one moment we are looking at a series of abstract marks and at the next moment they resolve themselves into a visage. Similarly, the individuals portrayed, whether they are Sully Sullenberger or Osama bin Laden, flicker and flare: both on our screens and in our consciousness. Esber’s work always implicates the viewer by requiring engagement beyond a mere superficial glance.
Richard Klein, Co-Interim Director.