artwork > Essays

michigan avenue galleries
Doug Stapleton: Optimistic Reconstructions September 29 — December 30 2012

Collage is an art technique we are all probably familiar with from school projects, if not from its longstanding use by famous artists such as Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso (who coined the term), Hanna Hoch, and several Pop artists. In the current high-tech world it may well be an endangered species, possibly to be replaced by digital mash-ups. What collage allows for is the perusal and recombination of imagery from a wide range of sources, making the artist a visual DJ of sorts — someone who can help us forge new connections between disparate elements, cultures, ideas and, sometimes, merely materials.

Stapleton's use of collage emphasizes its ability to juxtapose seemingly disparate elements, in this case culled from photographs in books and magazines, with a large dose of art history mixed at times with contemporary images. Despite the disjunction of content, he often blends or softens the seams between images with gouache or colored pencils, actually making the viewer less aware of his process.

This selection of work includes several series, all focused on portraiture or the body. The collages of bodies challenge Greco-Roman classicism's rigid ideals by mixing them with more nonchalant contemporary gestures and clothing. The irony in this humorous mix is that the contemporary poses are equally specific and intense in their manner. Parts of a Greek kouros might be adjoined to parts from a photograph of an Australian trucker. The tension between idealization and the imperfections of reality (and of aging), between a hint of eroticism and the straightforward quotidian sense of the body makes for a delightful mix.

Stapleton rightly focuses so much of his attention on hands and faces, wherein so much psychological content lies. His portraits often employ glaringly disproportionate replacement eyes, and even others' more subtle eye replacements reanimate and vitalize the often deadened stare of history's gaze evident in ancient statuary. The power of the gaze and the positing of meaning in it are excellent tools when displaced with odd contexts and thus manipulated. Although many of these pieces contain subtle narratives and obvious humor, there remains an enigmatic quality to the stories they tell, crossing boundaries of culture, religion, and time.

Doug Stapleton received his BA from the University of Delaware in 1985 and his MFA from The School of the Art Institute in 1989. His work has been exhibited widely, and recent examples in Chicago have included venues such as the Evanston Arts Center, the Loyola University Museum of Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College. He also works as a curator at the Illinois State Museum Gallery in Chicago and is an adjunct faculty member in the Interdisciplinary Arts graduate program at Columbia College.

(essay by Lanny Silverman, exhibition curator, Chicago Cultural Center)

Chicago Cultural Center essay

Essay by Lanny Silverman for the Optimistic Reconstruction exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center, September-December 2012.