Over the last several years, few young painters have continued to present work as consistently engaging, imaginative and original as Jamian Juliano-Villlani. Twisting a range of iconographies and approaches to modern painting through an endlessly shifting hall of mirrors, the artist’s works are exuberant outings and explorations of just where surrealism can take us in the 21st Century. Moving from ventures through the styles of 20th Century studio cartoons and graphic arts on to early computer graphics, bloated hyperrealism and back, the artist’s work always leaves space for a nuanced interest in how reality shapes itself from its contingent parts, and how one can explore the landscape of the world around us through its varied images and iconographies.
This ability is on full view at Ten Pound Hand, a show of the artist’s works at JTT Gallery that mines the modern condition and the history of image culture to create a swirling examination of the world we live in today. Treating modern crises and historical parallels with particular interest (the explosion of Pompeii and the recent fires in Southern California get particular treatment here), the show is an often challenging, and disturbing portrait of the world, rendered through the images it constantly creates and reassembles.
Perhaps the most striking note that the show hits is just how much Juliano-Villani’s technique has continued to evolve over the past several years. Not only has her subject matter grown and evolved in complexity and density of overlaid images, but equally has her own range of techniques. The artist mixes blocky, hard planes of color with gentle, almost airbrushed renderings, or elsewhere, counterposes cartoonish detail with stark, jagged figuration, The result are works that draw as much visual tension from the scenes of surreal violence and apocalyptic dread as from her modes of depicting them. In one work, Expressions the artist draws maximum drama from a stark white exterior of a home, juxtaposing it with a screaming figure about to face a flying brick coming through its window. Combined with the sharp, angular palm leaves outside the window, which look like they had been ripped from early CGI experiments, the image is an exercise in the history of 20th century images, drawing visual tension from sheer contrast.
One of Juliano-Villani’s particular masterstrokes is just this sort of dense imagistic reference, one that is as interested in the aesthetic sign as in the image it depicts. At JTT, Juliano-Villani proves herself a relentless explorer of the possibilities of collision and conflation, pulling from any possible source to create a scene that swirls and twists around its various dimensions.
By contrast, the artist’s installation in one room, If Balls Could Talk, pushes her interest in the line and the space that bounds it towards the phenomenon of graffiti culture. Coating the gallery walls in a range of varied signatures and tags around the walls of the space, the artist’s work twists the gallery inside out, turning it into a micro-landscape of the varied slang expressions and gestural approaches of the writers the artist so clearly finds intriguing. Rather than hyper-loading the space, the artist instead turns towards the minuscule details and inflections of the street artist’s hand. This attention to form, how it moves and shifts, warps and winds across the wall, is a fascinating parallel with her more detailed canvases, a parallel examination in the most atomistic elements of her work, the line and its possibilities to form such bizarre scenes. Through this same act of vivid action, the artist creates a world of her own, yet one that writes its own meanings over the pillars of the larger culture.
The show closes February 24th.
— D. Creahan
Jamian Juliano-Villani: Ten Pound Hand [JTT]