by Jonathan Griffin
It’s just the most meaningless title for a radio show. And don’t even get me started on Jason Bentley, the dreariest voice on KCRW and the presenter of the morning music program, Morning Becomes Eclectic. (Fine, I admit, I listen to it most days and, yes, I sometimes enjoy his music selections.) Alessandro Pessoli has taken Morning Becomes Eclectic as the title for his exhibition at Marc Foxx, which mercifully has none of the middle-of-the-road radio show’s milquetoast inclusivity. In four sculptures (two of them mobiles), four paintings, and two groups of drawings, Pessoli materializes a singularly piquant vision of his inner life.
Eclecticism enters via the cast of questionably related signs and signifiers that Pessoli uses to assemble his impression of selfhood. He appears in the most domineering work in the show, a painting more than eight feet tall titled A-P backyard (2017), in which he sits looking down at us through a thick black mane of hair, smoking a thin-stemmed pipe and kicking a cowboy-booted leg up against a tree stump. Beverage cans and Colt revolvers—silk-screened over a brushed and spray-painted ground—contribute to the painting’s noncontiguous, collagistic effect.
The exhibition’s press release, which comes in the form of the artist’s first-person explanation of the show, reveals that the hirsute figure in the picture is in fact “a wigged self.” Whether consciously or not, Pessoli’s acknowledgement here that the guy in the wig is just one of many selves (rather than himself disguised as someone else) is what delivers the exhibition—which he describes in the press release as “a big self-portrait”—from straight solipsism. Instead, it becomes a more general reflection on the fluid and subjective nature of selfhood, a quality that is not unique to, but is especially prevalent, in the self- realizing/self-inventing social milieu of Los Angeles.
In 2017, artists can anyway no longer assume that the world is necessarily interested in art based in autobiography, especially if the artist is male, white, heterosexual, or otherwise speaking from a position of privilege. Jason Rhoades’ concurrent exhibition, across town at Hauser & Wirth, makes this painfully clear. (Rhoades was born two years after Pessoli, although in very different parts of the world.)
Some would maintain that the self is all an artist has. Pessoli seems to disagree. He goes further and reveals and depicts a menu of possible selfhoods: repressed selves, compartmentalized selves, private selves, public selves, past selves and future, aspirational selves. Fantasy becomes an alternative form of self-revelation. Me Myself & I (2017) is a sculpture of a life-sized chopper, a customized motorbike with a ludicrously long front fork which, in Pessoli’s rendering, is made from welded-together BMX frames. The fuel tank is made from papier maché, the engine is terracotta, and the wheels are stitched felt. Above the seat, stuck on a welded pole, is that wig—a totem of one of the artist’s alternate selves.
As a European expatriate living in California, the Italian-born Pessoli has been subject to the profoundly destabilizing experience of having to recalibrate his native proclivities to a foreign culture that is at once strange and deeply familiar. Easy Rider was released as Libertà e Paura in Italy while Pessoli was still a kid; the Captain America chopper in that film is recognized the world over as an archetype of a certain conception of American freedom. (The BMX tubes in Me Myself & I have Stars and Stripes stickers on them.) Endearingly, Pessoli admits to listening to Morning Becomes Eclectic in his car after he drops o his daughter at school, on his way to the studio. Talk about compartmentalized selves.
In two hanging mobile sculptures, objects including a carved wooden head, more bike tubes, and several plaster penises hang in equilibrium. I’m not so sure that most of us ever achieve such a balance. More realistic, perhaps, is City of God (2017), in which static steel frames suspend elements individually, including a sweater well-worn by the artist and embroidered with patches, and “1963”—the the year Pessoli was born—spelled out in dangling ceramic numbers.
What makes Pessoli’s work so enjoyable is not so much his re ections on his own psychology but his facility as a painter, both on canvas and on paper. His luminous pictures swim uidly between media and styles of application, typically comprising sprayed sections (both stenciled and freeform), coarsely brushed abstraction, silk- screened motifs, and areas that are nearly photorealistic. Despite their technical eclecticism, they always feel so right, so coherent and whole: hopeful metaphors for the fractured self.
First published: CARLA, issue 8