From Jesse James to Capone, the American outlaw has long held a place in the popular imagination. For a fresh take on on what it means to be a rebel, artist Wes Lang sheds his own unique light on how the archetype fits into the modern world. With works in MoMA’s permanent collection and a host of international exhibitions under his weathered “Keep On Fuckin” leather belt, Lang’s talent is as strong as his opinions on America’s past and future. To take a closer look at the man behind the sentimentally subversive paintings and drawings, as Partners & Spade has done with their exhibit of Lang’s personal objects, is to explore a version of today’s masculinity that toes the line between sincerity and toughness.
While overall Lang’s possessions don’t differ much from any backwoods badboy’s—a silver dagger with a voluptuous naked lady handle, a middle finger statuette or a mounted roach collection—items like his rawhide packs of rolled up leather cigarettes show his meticulous dedication to any concept he creates.
Citing Basquiat as a major influence, Lang’s studious perfection also comes through in his highly-detailed, collage-like oil paintings and sketches. Montages of the kind of images typically airbrushed on the side of a Harley or its owner’s jacket breathe new life into these subjects with their meaningfully irreverent statements next to each image.
Covered in ink himself, fittingly much of Lang’s work would make an ideal tattoo. Along with his friend, tattoist Scott Campbell, the two make a case for tattooing as a legitimate artform without sentimentalizing it. As part of the Partners & Spade show, called “Staring At Empty Pages,” Lang will be on hand 20 November 2010 giving tattoos from a pre-drawn selection of custom flash art.
While Lang’s practice may seem simply beautiful or lighthearted on the surface, his work comes from deeply felt emotion. As Partners & Spade’s Andrew Post explains, a close relationship with a former math teacher who recently passed away led to a sculptural homage in the show. The totemic piece consists of a briefcase that belonged to his teacher, a massive Grateful Dead fan, swathed in Dead stickers and friendship bracelets collected from the 250 shows he attended as well as an extensive collection of tapes he left to Lang.
“Staring At Empty Pages” is on view through 6 December 2010 weekends only or by appointment through the week at the Partners & Spade studio.