What is the role of humor in art? For most of human history, both fine and folk art firmly resided in the realm of the serious. It is only in the past century that artists have begun to experiment with the idea of comedy in their work. We can trace this revolutionary notion back to Dadaist Marcel Duchamp’s landmark creation, Fountain (1917). Rather than sculpt a whimsical, enchanting depiction of some goddess or river nymph, the artist simply displayed a mass-produced porcelain urinal and labeled it art. Two years later, this celebrated conceptual artist further flirted with this facetious tone in L.H.O.O.Q., a reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (1503) complete with a penciled-on mustache.
In David Leggett and Ryan Richey: Mixed Emotions, currently on display at Hollywood’s Various Small Fires, humor immediately disarms the visitor, allowing for a profound and enriching viewing experience. The wit and charm present in these figurative paintings get to the heart of several crucial issues, including race, politics, identity, and finding meaning in the mundane. By laughing at what is traditionally taboo, both of these painters diffuse the tension and allow the viewer to investigate these topics with a renewed sense of clarity and understanding.
Although born in Springfield, Massachusetts, figurative painter and draughtsman David Leggett rose to prominence in Chicago, Illinois. Living in the Windy City for over a decade, it was there that Leggett grew to admire the surreal and often-macabre paintings of The Chicago Imagists, The Monster Roster, and The Hairy Who. Together these groups of post-war painters fused effervescent, cartoonish pop art with grotesque figuration and revealed the city as a swirling, bubbling cauldron of creative energy.
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