Detour Gallery Hosts Solo Exhibition By Michael LaBua
Michael LaBua is an artist of perpetual reinvention. The necessity for renewal reveals his nature as a creative visionary, and his style evolves with each new series of paintings.
This weekend, Detour Gallery premieres the artist’s new solo exhibition. "LaBua" features works from throughout his career, and runs through July 8. An opening reception will take place from 6 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, June 3.
The 30-year-old artist has been painting full-time for about five years. He started with graffiti at a young age, and gradually taught himself how to create in a fine art context. A native of Brooklyn, LaBua moved to Central Jersey at a young age with family, and now resides in Wall.
LaBua blends realist precision with surrealist themes. His oil paintings on wood, linen and canvas convey the experience of a lifelong adventurer, and also a deep sense of empathy. The artist exemplifies these two characteristics through his interests, which range from literature to rock climbing.
One of his first influences was Caravaggio. Through this progressive artist’s life and sensibility, Labua derived inspiration for his own style.
"Caravaggio’s work was always so dramatic compared to everything else I had ever seen," he said. "In the 1600s, the church ran everything, and this guy pushed buttons. When he painted Mary, he painted a dead woman in regular rags and clothes. She was just a lady who died to him. Imagine what the church must have thought of that."
Additionally, his subject matter is inspired by more contemporary artists such as Jenny Saville, Gottfried Helnwein and Francis Bacon. LaBua claims he has always been drawn to the radicals in life. He also feels camaraderie with regards to stylistic rebirth.
"One after another, all these new and different artists become my new heroes," he said. "And it’s great to kill your old heroes. I like the idea of changing things up constantly, from series to series. As an artist, I think that sticking to one thing is like being stuck in a jail cell."
Labua’s sensibility for the human condition is evident in his meticulously detailed paintings. With dark color palettes and weathered facial complexions, his figurative works simultaneously evoke elements of psychosis and serenity. The stature and expressions of his subjects are as integral as their settings, as can be seen through "Popular Home," a piece that juxtaposes an urban homeless man with decadent commercial branding.
His "Outcasts" series redefines notions of religious iconography, as can be seen through his portrayals of spiritual figures such as Krishna and Jesus Christ. These subjects are cast against detailed designs resembling comic books. Through these representations, he muses on themes of devotion and decadence in the modern world.
But it isn’t just art and literature that influences LaBua. He also derives inspiration from stand-up comedy.
"Comics, they’re as brutal as it gets with their intelligence and craft," he said. "They invite people not to an attention-based discussion, but to a form of relief. If anyone else were to say those things in a different context, they would be crucified. And that’s the beauty of it. They could tell you the truth, and you kind of accept it through laughter."
Through his subject matter, he aims to confront the viewer. Close-up portraits of weathered faces are juxtaposed with dark backgrounds, creating ominous atmospheres of reflection and solitude.
Despite a deep sense of realism in his art, LaBua prefers to let his paintings speak for themselves.
"A lot of people don’t want to look back at their past," he said. "And people like to forget, too, because what you don’t see you don’t think about. Whether or not people are going to confront what they see in my paintings is up to them."
LaBua is driven by creativity and spirituality over profits or commercialism. Painting in solitude brings him peace and a sense of purpose, and he structures his life around a rigorous schedule.
"With painting, there’s sometimes so little human interaction that things get weird," he laughs. "Everything gets very introspective and internal, but I think when you do that, you can take more out to the world. It’s a weird paradox, like being in a monastery or a temple, working out these demons. Your tangibility of the world starts becoming alive, but the internal work is a form of penance or repentance. It’s harnessing that energy into that thing. And that thing gets cut out of you when it’s done. It’s no longer a part of you. Then you go back to society, and draw more influence."
LaBua’s paintings express the raw essence of their subjects, and the virtuosity of their author. And through his evolving style, he transcends the norms of contemporary art.
The artist has previously exhibited in Europe, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Beverly Hills and Miami. He also participated in Detour’s inaugural exhibition "Culturedrone" last year.