Fusing Street Art and Surrealism, Langdon Graves Wallpapers Miami

Langdon Graves is known for her vaporous mixed-media drawings, which feature fleeting, naturalistic representations of people and objects, surreally overlapping, juxtaposed, or otherwise linked in near-mystical amalgams. Now at Aqua Art Miami, Graves’s work covers the walls of the lobby, and can be found at Victori Contemporary’s presentation within the fair. Her work borrows from realist painting, street art, and fantasy, producing critical commentary on contemporary life through their index of tropes and allusions. 

For the fair, Graves has produced an original wallpaper, patterned in white, pink, sky blue, and red. Like her mixed media drawings, the wallpaper uses juxtapositions of signs and objects: scissors, needle and thread, a hand, branches, a fly, a hypodermic needle. Unlike works such as Res Extensa (2013), which reproduce her subjects in photorealistic detail, Fire is reduced to graphic simplicity, each object silhouetted in one color against the pink ground. The print has been installed on several walls throughout the fair and will continue into Victori’s booth there, serving as a backdrop for Graves’s drawings, an oppositional ground that contextualizes their reading by serving as a visual counterpoint.

Like the duality between Graves’s drawings and her wallpaper prints, the imagery that she makes explores dichotomous subjects. “My work is always about the body and transformation—aging, degeneration, healing—and the role of belief in these processes,” she says. “I research a lot for my work in the areas of scientific medicine and religion—two systems we’ve developed to try to understand ourselves—and it leads me down some interesting paths.” The imagery in Fire underscore these interests. They are almost religiously iconographic, with forms that complement one another: an eye opened and closed, a cross and an X, a tear drop and a drop of blood, a hand and a prosthetic foot. Eyes are of particular interest to Graves, as they are reprised in works such as Day Philia (2013) and Res Cogitans (2013), where sightlines connect them to other elements, making looking and perceiving into holy acts of cogitation.

Like early Surrealists such as Francis Picabia, Frida Kahlo, and René Magritte, Graves invents allegorical systems that are psycho-socially complex, revealing, and beautiful. Like artists such as Barry McGee and Margaret Kilgallen, she incorporates both the ornate and detailed along with the simplified and archetypal. Such a balancing act points as much to the way the world is as how we perceive it.

—Stephen Dillon

Visit Victori Contemporary at Aqua Art Miami, Dec. 3–7, 2014.

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