Jackson Hole News and Guide
By Tibby Plasse
ROBERT MARS, Lonesome Valley, 2022
Mixed Media on Canvas, 50” x 40”
Steeped in commerciality, pop art made an aesthetic out of material culture. The transcendence of commodity into art has magnified into modern marketing campaigns, but the fine art of pop art still exists to be appreciated.
This week a show wholly dedicated to the legacy of commercial culture opens at Diehl Gallery.
“Pop!” features new work by four of Diehl’s gallery artists: Robert Mars, Ray Phillips, David Pirrie and Douglas Schneider. A thread of nostalgia ties the artists and their work together, or, as Diehl Gallery Director Devin Hardy said: “It’s an immortalization and apotheosis of celebrities, objects and images from a bygone era.”
Mars’ new work focuses on iconic movie stars from old Westerns, which is not a new theme for him, though he’s at it with a new take.
“With these current works, I am using a more traditional palette of reds, variations of blues and off-whites to play off of the American flag colors,” he said.
Hardy said Mars’ duality of celebrity and tradition creates “a dynamism ... that speaks to American heritage in a distinct and multi-faceted fashion.”
His “Class A Filtered Soup” evokes nostalgia as he reworks childhood memories with universal statements. The can of “Marlboro” soup is comical yet steadfast, homing in on so many elements of American culture in one 46-by-36-inch canvass.
Humor is a perpetual theme in Phillips’ work, Hardy said: “Often cheeky and at times almost irreverent, his pieces are intended to be joyful and sometimes downright comical.”
Pirrie takes a different approach to the concept. Congruent to Phillips, Pirrie’s work is informed by personal experience more so than a collective sense of culture and place.
“I started painting mountains about 20 years ago and it has kind of developed into this almost pop language of sorts, with these giant iconic mountains,” he said. “I’m treating the mountains like a celebrity fashion show — larger-than-life, almost unattainable, beautiful and mysterious.”
Pirrie is known for using his own skills as a mountaineer to drive his work and has been known to use topographic maps as a labeling device layered in his paintings. But in these new works he simplifies his commodification of the summits and granite faces with an overlay dot system that seems a distant cousin to plot coordinates. Here its monochromatic colors pull on the strings of branding more than they examine technical aspects of the terrain.
Hardy said Pirrie’s work depends heavily on color theory.
“Conceptually,” he said, “the dots and grids may represent coordinate plotting, metaphorically pointing to the impermanence of man-made symbols that attempt to prescribe location at the intersection of human and geological time.”
Schneider honors one of American culture’s matriarchs, Audrey Hepburn, with a mixed-media work. Completed this year, “Audrey” is a collage of vintage patterns, imagery of the age and uneasiness that, maybe, there’s another layer to beauty.
“In Schneider’s piece, he seems to capture this duality,” Hardy said. “The image of Hepburn is lovely; she is surrounded on one side by what resembles vintage wallpaper.”
On the other hand, it’s an imagery of the masses, as if the actress embodies two elements, Hardy said, her internal life and struggle to find a place to call home amid the glamour, and the face she presented to the public.