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Review: New work by Skylar Fein and David Buckingham 

Strike Anywhere, Strong Medicine and Children of the Night at Jonathan Ferrara Gallery

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When postmodernism was trendy, everything was considered a "text," and artists sometimes made paintings that were just sequences of words. Recent word art by David Buckingham, Skylar Fein and MRSA is more resonant, perhaps because they use time more like a color or a context. New York-born, New Orleans-based Skylar Fein is known for monumental, often gay-centric, works like his 2008 Prospect.1 installation Remember the Upstairs Lounge, but this series of oversized aluminum matchbooks — complete with matches with realistic rubber tips — are classic examples of traditional pop art. Hinting at pop's roots in surrealism, these nostalgia-tinged icons of throwaway incandescence advertise consumer goods ranging from Budweiser beer and 7UP to "Marlin Long 22 Rifles" as they ironically, yet lovingly, illustrate how traditional American commerce can morph into culture over time.

  Fein's collaboration with local graffiti artist MRSA on this Children of the Night series is more complex, with wood-relief wall pieces incorporating a crazy quilt of sliced and diced words embedded with iconic forms like product logos or a Confederate flag. Here geometry provides the only formal order in what amounts to a view of history as jabberwocky, in which words of wisdom and derangement battle for supremacy.

New Orleans-born Los Angeles resident David Buckingham scrounges L.A.'s peripheries for colorful scrap metal like the bits he once cut from the Charles Manson family's abandoned school bus. Words come naturally to the former ad writer, but now they are rendered as sometimes ambiguous commentaries in cut steel. Here rust-tinged, colorfully enameled letters spelling MEH! on a starburst background suggest indifference as a spectacle; and a colorful cross cobbled from metal letters says "Vanilla" if read vertically, but spells "Kinky" when read horizontally. If this seems nihilistic, Buckingham's background with a cabal of anarchist welders may have influenced his acerbic outlook — a quality especially obvious in a piece that functions as a parting shot: Shut Up! (pictured).


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