New York

Gary Panter

Gracie Mansion Gallery

Writing about Gary Panter’s art seemed a whole lot easier a few years ago than it is today. Certainly, part of this new, increased difficulty can be attributed to some changes in esthetic discourse within the art world itself; notably, that the distinction between “high” and “low” culture has become like a swampy muddle of co-optation, resistance, and retrenchment. Now, those two camps lob their artillery about without direction or definite cause at an invisible and equally fatigued ideological enemy. While the battle zone of recognized validity has become murkier, Panter’s own position has become less definite as well. He has moved beyond the basic lines of cartoonishness, punk rawness, and gnarly West Coast monster art, fusing his graphic sensibilities into an intricate and emotionally dense whole and evolving a far greater sophistication in terms of style and substance. The original hybrid seeds are still there, but they’ve been buried in a thick undergrowth of savage instincts.

The heterogenous, cut-up world of howling carnivalesque passion in which Panter’s paintings lyrically repose themselves is a multilinear, chaotic reticulation of retinal feedback etched out by the laser-fry blasts of America’s media—from its noxiously cute junk-food packaging and Saturday morning cartoon advertisements, to its reciprocal high-voltage countercurrents of underground comix, graffiti, and rock music. The work is culled bit by bit from sources we can’t so much recognize precisely as feel their vaguely familiar presence. It’s all there, reeking up close in front of us, hilariously disgusting in its total impact. Panter shows us the Magical Kingdom of America the Beautiful, where people, places, and things are exactly what they’re supposed to be, as long as we suspend all belief and keep the volume turned up. Like the grumbling of hunger from an overfed stomach, the songbird’s tune from her gilded cage, the snap-crackle-pop of additives in our Day-Glo cereal, the ceaseless laugh-track of I Love Lucy episodes that never leave the air, Panter’s paintings are jolting symphonies of excess built from the incompatible chords of frustration and satisfaction.

Carlo McCormick