Los Angeles

Jim Drain

Peres Projects

For anyone unfamiliar with Forcefield, the Providence-based art and music collective in which Jim Drain participated, a brief synopsis might be in order: Forcefield surged to popularity when, as the cliché goes, they were “plucked from obscurity” for the 2002 Whitney Biennial. Their contribution to that show was a pandemonium of ear-cracking sound, seizure-inducing films, and bewigged mannequins sheathed in the collective’s trademark knit Afghans, which look like they were produced by a team of Taylorist acidheads with industrial looms. With an engagé ethos involving anticommercial, trash-assimilating, egoless creativity binges, Forcefield answered the hungry call for a new radicalism in the art world. But it’s difficult to remain radical and comply with the requisites of professional success: Faced with a host of pressures and expectations, Forcefield disbanded.

Jim Drain’s first solo show suggested that Forcefield’s aesthetic—psychedelic, primitive-futuristic, and vividly colored—was largely the result of his ingenuity. The walls were painted in hues of violet, yellow, gray, and pale green and decorated with Op art—style silk-screened diamonds and discs. The diamonds formed a god’seye pattern in hot pink while the discs suggested LPs, Duchamp’s “Rotoreliefs,” lollipops, and hypnotists’ spirals. Against this funhouse backdrop Drain populated the room with sculptures cultivated from an arsenal of trimmings and notions: fabric- covered spools, tassels, fake gems, fun fur, and pompom trim. These carnivalesque objects conjure medieval court jesters, harlequinade, the ’70s kids’ TV show HR Pufnstuf, and the Yoruba.

A likeness to Forcefield’s knit figures is undeniable, but the key operation in Forcefield was to render the human figure faceless—a deft right-hook maneuver with an assaulting and scary effect. While the new, vaguely anthropomorphic pieces are intriguing—like mysterious totems of an ancient or alien (but in either case outré) tribe—they seem slightly toothless. Drain’s drawings incorporate collaged elements reminiscent of Eduardo Paolozzi, Sigmar Polke, and Hannah Höch, but with the addition of deskilled, felt-tip patterning and a sci-fi feel. Verging on coy, at their best Drain’s collaged drawings achieve a compellingly lo-tech Koyaanisqatsi aura: disparate visuals (Chan Marshall [aka Cat Power], a demure skier, a lotus flower, a kid giving the finger, an abject child’s toy) in an adroit matrix of life out of balance.

Culled from a Jimi Hendrix song, the show’s title, theskywasfilledwitha1000-starswhilethesunkissedthemountainsblue-and11moonsplayedacrosstherainbows, is what philologists would describe as “nonaerated,” referencing both classical texts printed without spacing and, more obviously, the lexicography of the Internet. There are some rich ideas here: Möbius meeting points between future and past, sound and color; a nostalgia for Surrealism,’ 60s graphics, and early abstraction; and craft materials utilized for tactile provocation rather than benign fluff. But as an installation, the show pointed toward a cohesion it didn’t quite achieve. Drain’s imagery suggests kinesis while remaining curiously static. There is, however, a silver lining: The Forcefield gestalt—incorporating music, sartorial madness, a quixotic and aggressive sensibility—might easily have been co-opted by the hungry (and superficial) ghost of the fashion world. Perhaps, by making a bold and timely foray into relatively conventional self-expression, Drain escaped what might have been the collective’s awful fate had their limelit moment lasted too long. And as so many of Forcefield’s best ideas were clearly Drain’s, it seems reasonable to expect that the development of an entirely new oeuvre may require a bit of exorcism along the way.

Rachel Kushner