barbara kruger, thinking of you, mixed media, 1999
barbara kruger, your body is a battleground, mixed media
i am obsessed with typography. i love letters, words. i love their forms, their graceful curves and straight-backed uprights. my love of letter forms played a big part in me falling in love with graffiti art and pursuing the interest academically. the first time i got letters tattooed on my skin (albeit greek letters) i was elated by the process of using my own skin as a writing surface. i couldn't believe how beautiful the words looked on the canvas of my skin. i found myself drawn to artists who used typography in their design. barbara kruger, russian constructivists, magritte, william blake. but it's a fine line. when executed well the juxtaposition of visual imagery with written words can be powerful and eloquent. when done half heartedly, or expressing a tepid sentiment, the pairing of fine art and written word results in what essentially amounts to a poorly designed hallmark card. i always had an aversion to art that sloppily paired painting and/or drawing with prose. watercolors of irises with sophomoric poetry about spring showers. it always struck me as ingenuine, as if the words and the design were both too weak to stand alone, and together they only seemed further handicapped by their conjoined status.
eric beltz, tree of the evil eagle, graphite on paper, 30"x40", 2008
santa barbara based eric beltz easily avoids the latter travesty by imbuing his works with humor, clear articulation, and candid witticism. his politically charged, stunningly rendered graphite works keenly dissect modern political and social anxiety with a sharp sense of satire. beltz' drawings resemble etchings and scientific illustration of the 18th century (another gold star from me) and yet find a sense of contemporary relevance by addressing history as an important indicator of our present. in his series entitled american visions beltz depicts the founding fathers in scenes of defeat, regret and plaintiveness. in tree of the evil eagle washington sits dejectedly before a majestic tree occupied by a malicious looking eagle and a pentagram of text. the chopped lumber surrounding his slumped frame seems to allude to his famous cherry tree anecdote, and perhaps underscores the impotence of honesty as a virtue in politics. in today's day and age, where politicians treat the past like unwanted baggage rather than an important educational tool, beltz' clever indications that generally life's problems stay fairly similar and that we ought to try to learn from the lessons of the past are much appreciated.
eric beltz, treats breathing problems, graphite on paper, 11"x14", 2006
there is a mystic, mythological element to beltz' work as well. frequent occult symbols and allusions to american mythology and superstition riddle beltz' illustration, such as the pentagram of text in tree of the evil eagle. there is an acknowledgement of the strange and constantly changing history of religion and spiritualism in america; a gentle nod to the american dream and the various ways that it becomes present in our hopes, dreams, and disappointments. he has also done an interesting series on folkloric medical treatments, and at least one piece that reminds the viewer of the positively benign and healthful applications of hemp used by the founding fathers.
eric beltz, good luck assholes!: thomas jefferson's vision of death, graphite on paper, 22"x28", 2007
and beltz doesn't bother beating around the bush with these issues. rather than veiling his messages in flash and pomp, his clearly articulated style, gracefully utilized passages of negative space, and often bold language practically shout at the near deaf american populace that change is inevitable and disappointments are sure to occur without careful consideration. however, these pieces are certainly not without sensitivity and poignancy. beltz' feather light shading and lovingly depicted flora and fauna, lend grace and beauty to his illustrations. with today's political climate, environmental hazards and never-ending train of scandal and intrigue look for beltz' work to only improve with the ample inspiration. in a society that has a tendency to dissolve into a no-holds-bar shouting match, a level-headed artistic voice with a good sense of humor is extremely valuable.