PHIL FROST Litany
JACK SHAINMAN GALLERY | 2001
Originally a skateboarder and graffiti artist, Phil Frost exited the street and entered the gallery during the mid-’90s. Like Barry McGee, another street artist who managed the same shift, Frost has not wholly renounced his past. The current exhibition of his work at the Jack Shainman Gallery illustrates a complex intertwining of obsessive patterning, figures, collage, and startling manipulation of found objects. What thematically binds these pieces together is a white patterning consisting of curves, circles, and arabesques with which Frost coats his paintings and sculptures, a patterning that alludes to graffiti.
Frost’s paintings consist of two layers. The top layer is the white, geometric patterning. Partially masked by the white, a layer of collage made of newspapers, musical scores, drawings, and cartoon-like characters inhabits the tight negative space of the white patterning. When Frost uses the crisp line of the white to complete the profile of a figure in the background, the layers mingle, confusing any simple relation between the foreground and background. Though the patterning creates a strong compositional unity, the real tension within Frost’s painting lies in the intersection between these two layers.
In his sculpture, Frost transforms mundane, manufactured objects, like footballs and water-cooler bottles, into the strange artifacts of an obscure ritual. For example, painted footballs are attached end-to-end to form a tower, transforming symbols of American popular culture into something utterly foreign. In another piece, water-cooler bottles covered with white patterns are placed on a pallet raised slightly above the floor. Frost changes the water bottles into artifacts from a place far from the modern American office spaces in which the water-cooler has a ubiquitous place.
The tattooed surfaces of his paintings and sculptures force one to uncover bit by bit the assemblage of details just beneath the surface. Unveiling over time the content of the paintings and sculptures and forcing one to look carefully to scrutinize them, brings about a transformation of common objects, like footballs and water bottles, into something uncanny and unfamiliar. Ideally, art incites reevaluation of things, inspiring us to reconsider the common.