Riverside Art Museum:
If math is not your strongest suite, then Todd Gray’s art will shape-shift your perceptions of geometry. Currently on display at the Riverside Art Museum, “Pop! New Works by Todd Gray,” celebrate the cartoon imagery associated with the Pop Art Movement of the late 1950s and ’60s attributed to such artists as Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. His works also contribute to the aesthetic dialogue initiated by contemporary Neo-Pop artists like Yayoi Kusama and Jeff Koons.
For example, Gray blurs the boundaries associated with the traditional picture frame with his acrylic on wood Pop sculpture, Collywobbles (2018). Carefully assembled wooden rectangles and squares adorned with bold colors and such familiar imagery as Zap!, Pow!, Brillo, Campbell’s and color combinations of Ben-Day dots all shout with accessibility. Devoid of any frame, these geometric shapes take on a life of their own casting individual shadows as if almost reassembling themselves like Christopher Nolan’s dreamscape downtown set designs in his film, Inception (2010). Moreover, it is not surprising that the term Collywobble denotes a feeling of fear, apprehension and nervousness because while the Pop Art Movement honored postwar consumerism, it reacted strongly against Abstract Expressionism. Similar to his 20th century predecessors, Gray speaks today to the digital consumerism of an Amazon-retail society. Additionally, he is reacting against the lonely yet technologically close planet. This specific work asks an Instagram Global Village world to become uncomfortable with “Emoji fans” and desire real, tactile human connection.
Another work by Gray similar in execution of materials and bold color that appropriates the image of the American flag is Fragmented (2019). Sampling from Jasper John’s use of symbols such as the American flag in his paintings, Gray responds by addressing the breakdown and redefinition of what it means to be American—especially within the context of the current political climate of nationalistic shifts in foreign policy and immigration practices which affect how other countries perceive the US. Ultimately, this work seeps with paradox regarding the meaning of red, white and blue and ambiguity pertaining to stars and stripes.
Additionally, other works by Gray contribute to the current discourse surrounding the treatment and perception of women, with a Wonder Woman motif that references the style of Roy Lichtenstein. Large Wunda (2017) is exactly what the title connotes: stacked, boldly painted, wooden shaped cubes of a nearly eight foot image of Wonder Woman. The fragmented facial profile evokes the highly recognizable comic book imagery associated with this heroine, the Ben-day pattern cumulatively adding to the image of her face. Wunda indeed.
Wookie (2019), although smaller in scale but similar in imagery and use of materials, frames Wonder Woman as a familiar symbol reassessed in a jig-saw manner. Both invite viewers to reexamine notions of superhero gender expression and beauty.
These current works by Todd Gray are welcoming because familiar images from popular culture of the past and present day digital culture extend an invitation to viewers; it activates prior knowledge and experience that facilitates interaction with the art. His deconstruction and juxtaposition of the recognizable also encourages thoughtful, personal reflection and transformation.
Todd Gray, “Pop! New Works by Todd Gray,” June 6 – August 4, 2019, at Riverside Art Museum, 3425 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside, CA 92501. www.riversideartmuseum.org