March 16 – April 27, 2019
Nino Mier Gallery is thrilled to announce, Monolith, an exhibition of new works by Brooklyn-based artist Cameron Welch at the gallery’s original space located at 1107 Greenacre Ave in Los Angeles. Drawing inspiration from both antiquity and modern life, Welch presents a series of sculptures and ‘paintings’: wall-mounted mosaic reliquaries depicting his own mythologies, specifically, untold stories of the American black experience. Formed by grouted tiles and interspersed with quotidian ready-mades like items from eclectic markets and objects culled from Brooklyn detritus, Welch intertwines, paints and assembles various materials to form the scenes of his epic narratives. Often depicting heroic or quirky figures with whom he shares a kinship, or surrogates for himself, the artist sheds light on unsung histories through complex myriad of sensations set within the intricate topology of his works.
Previously working in collage and textiles, Welch transitioned into mosaic assemblage in part after wandering through the Ancient Greco-Roman wing at the Metropolitan Museum. Noting that people of African descent were often underrepresented regardless of being an intrinsic part of the ancient world, Welch reclaims this history by creating monumental, lasting depictions with culturally representative motifs. Drawing from his own personal experiences, especially being bi-racial, the artist formed his practice around an effort to advance a more contemporary archeology. Repurposing Greco-Roman characters, like in Black Cupid, the usually cherubic white child is now fashioned with black tiling, shooting an arrow towards a blonde Venus with a bursting heart and his name tattooed across her arm. In Monolith, Welch proclaims himself as a modern-day Hermes, who in addition to being known for his playful trickery, is the god of trade routes, and thusly, someone who connects diverse people together.
Welch’s use of materials also suggests one of his major inspirations: his adopted home of Brooklyn and New York City. Like Welch’s work, the city is a clash of a multitudes – a collision perfectly encapsulated by the artist’s work. By his own description, his local Crown Heights corner store sells everything from cat food to machetes, a myriad of objects that often make their way into his painting. Notwithstanding the grand scale and splendor of Welch’s work, his aesthetic retains a familiarity of improvised urban art, like homemade mosaics wrapped around street lamps, jagged shards of colored glass atop walls, or paths of a community gardens decorated with bottle caps. The tile he uses, small circles in honeycomb and simple white and black rectangles, also recalls the New York City subway halls – and like the underground cityscape, vary from perfectly aligned and gleaming, to smashed, sullied and covered in scrawls. He also brings in bits of mirror and glass, where the viewer is flashed glimpses of light, as if catching oneself in reflection of a glass storefront or the glint from a skyscraper.
Of course, Welch follows a long line of New York based artists who took up the world around them and absorbed it into their work, from Claes Oldenburg’s store, Basquiat’s graffiti-like gestures, Rauschenberg’s combines to Haring’s simple cartoon figures. Growing up visiting the
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Welch describes the formative experience of seeing Thornton Dial’s work as inspiring him to look outside of typical art materials in art-making.
In his studio, Welch describes a sense of rhythmic violence and sonic energy in the preparation of his materials: the pounding and hammering of tiles into shards echoing a hypnotic drumbeat, and the forceful shattering of the glass and ceramic surfaces discharging like brass crescendos. The repetition from dark to light color gives the eye a similar rhythmic occurrence, and the figures, bent and writhing suggest the same pulse, action and movement. Music continues to be an outstanding theme that infiltrates the experience of Welch’s work, often including figures holding Hermes’ famous lyre, African drums or even entire musical instruments like keyboards and trumpets. Welch also embeds CDs in his works – local musician’s demos often sold or found on the streets in his neighborhood – ironically rendered useless by their inclusion in the mosaic yet retaining a cultural record of the moment and time they were written.
For Monolith, Welch also presents a single stand-alone sculpture, Rhythm Section, a tiled column-like totem covered in black and white faces. The images point to the crux of code-switching – which often concerns people of multiple racial and cultural backgrounds, who struggle with employing the right version of themselves in various cultural contexts. This is also his version of an ancient Janus head, a multifaced figure presented in various states and guises, often set back-to-back. This motif was classically used to show Gods and their opposing God, or the same figure before and after a metamorphosis, but moreover, to show a single figure looking towards the past and to the future in tandem – a perfect metaphor for this new work by Cameron Welch.