Greely Myatt’s Comical Speech Bubbles Create Conversation
Prolific Memphis-based sculptor Greely Myatt playfully references his Mississippi upbringing in his works, often depicting American traditions such as quilting and reading the Sunday comics. A professor at the University of Memphis, Myatt who was honored with a citywide retrospective in 2009, and is known for employing salvaged materials in his works, like traffic signs, antique tables, and cheese wax. He wittily juxtaposes themes from popular and traditional art forms with an astute awareness of art history, creating works that emphasize the often deceptive distinction between ‘high’ and ‘low’ forms of culture. This fall Myatt presents “and,” the second installment of a two-part solo show which began earlier this year at David Lusk’s new Nashville gallery and is now showing at its Memphis location.
In “and,” we see Myatt using one of his recurring motifs: disembodied speech bubbles. This use of graphics from comic strips as a medium has evolved from Myatt’s earlier practice, having started in a series in 2006 in which the artist pasted actual comics to the canvas and erased everything but the dialogue. The more recent sculptures can be seen as an evolution of these ideas, now erasing the dialogue as well, so only the frames remain. By separating the speech bubble from the page, Myatt uses it as a symbol unto itself. Its bulbous blank shape stands in for positive and negative concepts: on the one hand, the empty bubbles give the feeling of something unspoken and emphasize the missing speaker. At the same time they are laden with meaning, signifying language itself as well as the history of comics both in pop culture and in art history.
In the pieces exhibited in “and,” bubbles are quilted together like floor tiles (as in Here and Now, both 2014), mounted on walls, and inscribed with primary colors and geometric shapes (Big reDot and Delta Blue, both 2014). His works hint at the forms and motifs proliferated by modern and contemporary masters from Roy Lichtenstein to Richard Artschwager. By employing speech bubbles Myatt seems to be creating a dialogue and nodding to the chatter that has become so influential in the art market today. While the neutral colors and dramatic lighting of the show seems to cast a reverential atmosphere, it’s clear that, in more ways than one, Myatt casts a tongue-in-cheek tone, and issues a playful reminder that art need not be taken so seriously.