I WANT CANDY
Allan D. Hasty
559 W 22nd St
July 1 - August 8, 2008
In his previous photographic work, Allan Hasty has evinced a decided Southern Gothic tendency. His images are replete with tabloid visions of sex, sleaze, sin and death, with B-girls in bustiers brandishing guns, with freaks and geeks. With portraits subjected to the choreographed flash of strobe lights, analyzing motion into a series of post-Eadweard Muybridge smears, tearing bodily into the fourth dimension. With memento mori awash in a sea of multimedia distress, the surface of the photo intentionally dirtied in its development from the negative. A photo from Solicitation, his last show at The Proposition in 2004, is representative of his penchant for the freakish and extreme, for his manipulation of the image, and for his peculiarly gothic obsessions.
Hasty’s stance is cutely subversive, self consciously sexualized, purposefully tawdry, perhaps even an antique (or occasionally hackneyed) take on the demimonde. He is not exactly Joel-Peter Witkin, but they seem to inhabit adjacent workbenches in the same abattoir. Were his Weltanschauung reified into the image of a rock band, we might be looking at The Cramps or The Butthole Surfers. And more than likely he subscribes to that old William Blake chestnut: "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”
His latest work, though, is a bit of a surprise, and not because he has lost his naughty edge, but rather due to his choice of a new medium. Here are ten paintings, silkscreen ink on canvas, each about four feet square and consisting of a monochrome field overlaid with a dense grid of screened images, logos familiar the street drug trade. Coke and dope, C&D, in their familiar little plastic bags, stamped with iconic brands like Batman, Bubble, Crown, Bulldog, Skull and Superman, representing the marketing efforts of some of New York's most upwardly mobile entrepreneurs. They label their merchandise for the same reasons that influence the “legitimate” commercial world, or the stacking of cans on your local supermarket shelf: for brand recognition; ease of identification and selection; specificity among competing labels; as a guarantee of particular taste or quality or potency; to foster customer loyalty; and to create a lasting, durable persona for their goods.
Hasty is decidedly not judgmental about the mileu he has chosen to depict. If anything, he is perhaps a bit too avid in embracing the lower depths, the lure of depravity. By now it is a given that capitalism is similar on all levels, whether it wears a suit and tie in the boardroom or baggy jeans and bling on the street corner. We all know the Mafia is organized, top down, just like a major corporation, and that corruption and greed are as prevalent (and perhaps even more dangerous, in the long run) in banks and mortgage houses as they are in Columbian drug cartels. Business is business. We are all complicit in its excesses, betrayed by its abuses, victimized by its blandishments, allured by its promises, swallowed up in its ability to co-opt.
A pertinent aside: This summer we seem to be remembering the golden age of East Village punk and New Wave, a decade (or so) from the late 70s to the late 80s, with a show at PPOW inspired by the work of David Wojnarowicz; a brief reunion of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, featuring Lydia Lunch, in conjunction with the publication of a book on the New York No Wave scene; the 20th anniversary of the Tompkins Square riots with the film Captured, centered on photographer Clayton Patterson, longtime chronicler of the Lower East Side. This period was also the flowering of the East Village gallery scene, and back in the day, there was a space on East Tenth Street (just down the block from Nature Morte) called Executive. The name was not a nod to yuppiedom, or a hopeful bid for entrée into a world of corporate polish; it was archly lifted from a local brand of dope.
Hasty was no stranger to the East Village scene. He certainly remembers those days of experimentation and excess, the heady flirtation with drugs and danger. And he has, apparently, been collecting and cataloging these bags of dope for many years, perhaps for curatorial purposes only. Or should we take him at his word: does he really want his candy? In any case, his method reveals a painstaking attention to craft and an assiduously handmade quality. He first photographs the logo off the bag, with all its smudges and imperfections intact, then enlarges the image, creating a single screen, which is used to print each element of the grid. So if you can count 63 logos in “Super”, be assured it required 63 individual pressings.
The regularity of the field suggests the regimen of pattern painting, while Hasty’s cover-the-canvas efforts might indicate an obsessive-compulsive disorder, perhaps even a bit of horror vacui. But we are not here to psychoanalyze, rather to enjoy the product. Each painting incorporates variations of pressure and application, peculiarities of accident and intention. It is these very variations – a lightening of the monochrome background in certain areas (as in Ed Ruscha), a slight torque of the logo from one pressing to the next - that delight the eye and keep it moving over the canvas, alert to nuance. Certainly, these works would be much less effective were they perfectly machined, fully uniform in color, repetitive in density and image. They would degenerate into mass production, mere posters on canvas. A very unsatisfying demonstration of an idée fixe.
In this sense, a comparison to Warhol is unavoidable: the use of silkscreens, of course, and the appropriation of pop imagery, in this case logos, which accesses Warhol's entire oeuvre, from the earliest 50s shoe ads to the Campbell’s soup cans and Brillo boxes to the mid 80s collaborations with Basquiat. But there is also the idea of resolution and registration, or the lack of same, the process of degradation when an image is photographed, re-photographed, screened and then printed. Warhol embraced the artistic possibilities of “bad” printing: the fuzziness, off registration qualities, inexact outlines, uneven coloration and grain, blotches. He took these “errors” and made them the very subject of his art. Hasty is no slouch in this department. Take a look at “Lion” and feel free to roar in approval.
A final word, or rather two. “Demonic” is one useful description of the artist’s mindset (see below), but its close cousin, “demotic”, would not leave my mind. It also felt right, but I could not remember its meaning, so I looked it up. There are two definitions. The more common is “of the people, popular, vernacular”, and this certainly references Hasty’s selection of street corner branding. The second definition is more specific: “designating a simplified system of ancient Egyptian writing, distinguished from hieratic”, the latter being a script derived from hieroglyphics and used by priests in the temple. Now I had what I wanted: a perfect metaphor for Hasty’s new work. His paintings can be viewed as a simplified system of picture writing, built from commercial logos which march across the canvas in ordered rows, much like text on a page. But as they are decidedly secular, they are not hieroglyphs. They are Hasty’s hiply arch demotics.