“I can’t tell if you’re serious or not,” said the driver.
“I won’t know myself until I find out whether life is serious or not,” said Trout. “It’s dangerous, I know, and it can hurt a lot. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s serious, too.”
Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions
VSF is pleased to present an exhibition of new works by David Leggett and Ryan Richey, whose friendship began as fellow students at the Art Institute of Chicago. Having both recently relocated their studio practices to California (Leggett to LA and Richey to Santa Barbara), they continue to honor their roots in the counterculture scene of the Midwest, the gritty aesthetic paved by the Chicago Imagists and Monster Roster, and a shared improvisational comedy sensibility.
Humor is overtly and distinctively used by both Leggett and Richey as an icebreaker for unconventional subject matter. For Leggett, humor averts political correctness, allowing his paintings to candidly address issues of race, racism, sex and identity politics. For Richey, humor facilitates self-reflection and permits sentimentality, capturing wonder in quotidian banalities. Paradoxically, humor gives each artist license to explore subject matter that may otherwise be considered awkwardly serious. Leggett admits, “the viewer may be upset that they laughed at the subject matter that they are told by society is not a laughing matter.”
Inspired by Chicago painters (and personal mentors) Karl Wirsum, Barbara Rossi and Jim Lutes, as well as comedians including Robin Harris, Richard Pryor, Steven Wright and Mitch Hedberg, Leggett draws on a rich legacy of satire and creative activism. Using playfully childlike materials such as glue-on ‘googly eyes’, felt, glitter and crayons as well as cultural references such as Mr. T, Bill Cosby, Alice in Wonderland, and Sesame Street, Leggett fearlessly challenges hierarchies of education, taste and power in art. With a razor-sharp word or two, Leggett catalyzes his discordant assemblages of images over stark backgrounds.
Richey’s paintings are liberally layered with gesso and oil paint, the surfaces whittled with a kitchen knife. At first glance, the compositions are loosely abstract, comprised of reduced subjects and situations that trigger memory, nostalgia and the personal growing pains specific to rural Americana. Sardonic titles tell more: In and Out depicts a young boy mischievously exiting a bedroom window, Late Bloomer, a single sprout flowering alongside a chain-link fence, and Used Cars, a starry night sky reflecting off a tarnished windshield.