~CASEY JEX SMITH/LaVIOLA BANK opens to-nite !!

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illus: CASEY JEX SMITH, ‘Crowns’, 2009. (detail), pen on paper, 25 x 22 in.

CASEY JEX SMITH: ‘Gird Your Elves, and Be Broken in Pieces’ – opens to-nite – SAT JUNE 6 / 6-9 PM
the show runs: JUNE 6 thru JULY 11, 2009


. . . going to see the CASEY JEX SMITH and DAVID MAZZUCHELLI shows, on the Lower East Side, last Saturday, was a study in contrasts. While you could say that both artists are representational, graphic, with a taste for the ‘human’ condition – imagined – !! – and, expressed through fine line draftsmanship mostly in pen and ink, on paper, that is: black and white – that’s about where the similarities begin and the differences – dialog !!

First of all, this is the difference between two different kinds of graphic artists by definition, even though both – draw. MAZZUCCEHELLI is a graphic cartoonist and social commentator, his dramatic visuals are at the service of deeply told narratives. Tales of good and evil. Heroes against criminals. Humans against the modern city and alienation. CASEY JEX SMITH, is a artist. His black and white pages are unique ‘stand-alone’ images, or stand-alones – within a series. His drawings are not about specific stories, but more ‘questions’ into the nature and mythology of the human race, good and evil. and with reflection upon biblical religion – as much as fantastical myth-making. The ‘big question’ – human nature, the human condition, in the global meltdown/renewal of year 2009, and in some drawings – also looking back, even to Biblical times.

MAZZUCCEHELLI, an older artist at his peak, now teaching at SVA – with serious publishing world accomplishments dating back to when his career began, (when he was 21 in 1982 !!) was a retrospective – we could see different styles and concerns, different ambitions evolve. It was a pinpoint, not to to mention archival feast – for comic book ultra-fans and art lovers, in general !!

CASEY JEX SMITH is a young artist – just starting out – but it was fascinating to see his show unroll as a kind of immediate, or mini-instant ‘retrospective’, as well, in that it displayed biographical existence . . . here and now – on the face of this earth.

The other interesting contrast was the locations of the shows themselves. LaVIOLA BANK, with its huge glass and metal storefront, high ceilings, and sleek professional interior feels like the definition of – a small ‘museum’ – MoCCA, The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art – located on the 4th floor of an commercial building at the gateway of Soho and the Lower East Side – on the other hand – feels more like a larger, yet just as dark, typical re-modeled Lower East Side ‘clothing’ store !!
As back-to-back gallery crawling/opening experiences – they couldn’t be beat.

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LaVIOLA BANK on upper, or rather – way east – East Broadway. deep into the Lower East Side – almost at the East River.

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from left: ALLEGRA LaVIOLA a co-director/founder of the gallery, artist CASEY JEX SMITH, and next to him his wife, AMANDA, who is also an artist.
Casey Jex Smith and his wife currently reside in San Jose, California.

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MICHAEL BANK CHRISTOFFERSEN, the other co-director and gallery co-founder, with his pretty wife MAJ ANYA DeBEAR – who also has serious Danish ties.

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the wall of framed fighter ‘card’ game – cards !!

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my fave – the FRODO look-alike !!
CASEY JEX SMITH, ‘FRUMGORN BEESTINGER’, 2009. unique !! drawing, pen on paper. 9 x 6 in. ($500)
so, of course the super interesting note – is that, they really aren’t cards, per se, in that they are not printed. They are unique drawings, they are not multiples – and so, that makes the $500 price tag – a steal, by anybody’s definition !!
the artist and the gallery are obviously very focused on selling the work, not just showing it – a refreshing professional position – even, but especially well considered – in these in these days, and when you can still find aspiring young artists – who won’t even sign even – unlimited open-ended posters for ya !!

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CASEY JEX SMITH, ‘Jamlamin Ogrecrush the Thunderer’ !!
this card really intrigued me as well, as much for my new found Viking friends over in Berlin and, Norway – as my own use of black and white cardstock ABC (Biblical !!) cards – to title my own recent show, at OTHER MUSIC.

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CSEY JEX SMITH, ‘Nephihah’, 2008. a large ink drawing.
this was one of several (mostly) larger graphic works – that seemed to speak to our environmental world on earth today – and what we are doing to it – or where it is going, but in a pastoral non-urban – vision of re-newed awareness, and super-reality – and fantasy, surrealism ? – as opposed to bleak desolation, though not sure about that conclusion – it might just reflect my own wishful – thinking !!
and it seems it does – LOL, reflect my 2009 art bearings – I just googled NEPHIHAH. it is in fact, in Mormon teachings – a city that is destroyed for becoming evil. see: BOOK OF MORMON/SEIGE OF NEPHIHAH !!

hanging tree - detail
so it turns out, after getting a (wonderful) chance to speak with the artist, directly, and in person – at the opening, that his titles, some, like above – referencing MORMON teachings – are really, though personal, part and parcel of his work and his defining self – as he is a practicing Mormon – who was raised in Salt Lake City.

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so, you get a feeling as you cruise the exhibit – of an imaginative life closely lived – in a childhood immersed in bible stories, Morman narratives, and myths, epic takes on: good and evil . . .
This aspect – stayed with me – and dialoged with the – MAZZUCCHELLI exhibit I was next to experience – DAVID MAZZUCCHELLI, seemingly also a guy who seems to have grown-up immersed in picture books, and the eternal battle of good and evil – except in his case – it was comic books !! and one-to-one combat in modern urban wastelands !!

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this series of drawing in particular spoke to myths !!
CASEY JEX SMITH, ‘Dragon’, 2009, pen on paper, 20 x 22 in. ($2,200)

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detail, ‘Dragon’.

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CASEY JEX SMITH, ‘Jew, Gentile, Dwarf’, 2009. collage on paper. 11 x 8.5 in. a seminal piece, very unique and very keystone – in the show’s context. and priced at $500. (I’d spring for it, in anano-second – if I could !!)
so, now we are getting to the more Biblical aspects !!
and apparently – that’s where the controversy lies. just as MAZZUCCHELLI had his Achilles heel – or moment of supreme in-your-face – truth, or, if you will, how about just plain – personal affront – to the public at large – ? – his Japanese sailor-shirted school-girl S&M porn – CASEY JEX SMITH – brought with him some references to Jews and Gentiles, that seemed to spook him – in person – knowing they found their way to exposure – LOL – in the heart of the Lower East Side – an historic Jewish immigration portal – in NYC !!

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detail, ‘Jew, Gentile, Dwarf’ the images are cut from old vintage Biblical Children’s story telling books.
. . . in a neighborhood where you can see run-down yet, proud old synagogues converted to Pentecostal temples with huge metal crosses, that really look like militant sharp pointed swords, covering up, or superimposed on top of the Jewish 6-pointed Star of David stained glass windows, (ex. corner Delancey and Allen) – this pictorial reference didn’t seem that offensive – until I googled Mormons and Jews – and found out what a thorn in each sides – they were !!

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detail, ‘Jew, Gentile, Dwarf’.
. . . apparently there are 2 major major, both very bitter – rifts.
one: to Jewish horror – Mormons insist on posthumously baptizing Jews, meaning after they are dead, and (key) without permission – the LDS – Latter Day Saints aka Mormons – are said to be putting into their archival record – that Jews converted to Christians !! with no indication – that this was done for them – by the archivists themselves !! and god forbid if the civilization goes kaput and future star voyagers, find only these Mormon records – they will think Jews turned on their faith willingly !! talk about epic cartoon battles, MAZZUCCHELLI !! The Mormons on their part – apparently rather arrogantly – believe they allowing the Jews their one and only chance at true salvation. To the Jews it is the worst insult, especially as LDS records have targeted holocaust victims – who died for their Jewish beliefs, rather than convert !!
see: The Issue of Mormon Baptisms !!

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of course this polemic religious battle – isn’t the be-all, end-all of the show – as these innocent happy – biblical images seem to say – scattered throughout the gallery.

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au contraire – it’s just as meaningful – as the fairy tale Sci-fi references, and like the MAZZUCCHELLI Japanese schoolgirl – maybe just another played-out cultural motif – for us to consider, and why ? or, maybe NOT !! you know .. I’m always a peace-maker – except when it comes to artists and galleries that cross me, translate: use me.

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in fact its these religious references, that to my mind set this show apart, and really set it to taking on a one-of-a-kind good vs evil epic drama. like I said, this is a young artist and it will be interesting to see how he sets foot – again ?
but to my mind this wall is truly amazing to behold and think about. how rare – to see a young artist – present a wall of religious beliefs . . . if you don’t just walk right by them – they completely contradict – the ‘universal’ and mythical – feel of the show’s card image, ‘Crowns’, top, and most of the other works, i.e. ‘Dragons’ (above) – which are pretty beautiful, and intense and mysterious to look at, and I wouldn’t mind having one – but, these little gems – these are a whole other story. they are really honest. on a very individual level.

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CASEY JEX SMITH, ‘Kneeling’, 2009, collage and spray paint on paper. 11 x 8.5 in. ($350 !!)
first of all they really – reflect the artist’s deeply ingrained upbringing, and current practice – as Mormonism is above all else, an outreach to convert – and not keep the faith, silent and private !!

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CASEY JEX SMITH, ‘YELLOW BOY’, 2009, collage and spray paint on paper. 11 x 8.5 in.
. . . this amazing one – with its Jewish child and looming cross – gets to the heart of the matter – of that other – major major burning MORON vs. JEW CONTROVERSY. simply put, as far as I could superficially research it, Mormons believe that they are descended from the 12 tribes of Israel. Jews say no, no DNA proof. and two, they are diametrically opposed. Mormons believe in outreach and conversion, not to mention Jesus. Jews say, if you’re not born into the cult, if your mom ain’t got Jewish ancestry, – well pretty much – we don’t want ‘cha. who is more insulting, I do not know. I’d rather ponder DAVID MAZZUCCEHELLI battles – I mean as religious theory, not art work, these are pretty amazing as artwork.

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of course, each to his own cult. I’ve heard some refer to the cult I follow – JOSH HARRIS & WE LIVE IN PUBLIC – trashed as a …. ‘crackhead’s’ last party !! so there, ya go. . this is the world vision – that his cult, culminates in.

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maybe it’s best to end – the way the show does – with a universal ‘creation’ story wall mural. on the gallery’s back wall ..
Casey’s wife, Amanda helped paint the open hands !!

william crump
bye the way, another graphic pen and ink, line artist, New York City-based, WILLIAM CRUMP dropped by the opening, and said hello. his work is more American folklore based.


UP-DATE: JULY 28, 2009

ok. that was the strangest review. I don’t even want to look back at it – cause I’m sure I’ll erase – the best parts !!
I definite had a strange time writing it up – but, meant to say – the show – it’s real intense, the combo of myth-fantasy & the unexpected, religion bits – comes at ya – like nothing you’ve seen before. the little religious collages, the Mormon tableaux – are so simple. really childlike – they can get right by ya, slide right by ya, or just grab ya. floor you – esp. if you really stop to fully consider them in the context of a contemporary cutting edge art show.
In fact, I thought it was super interesting that a young artist putting his first foot forward in NYC, would not just stick to the ‘art’ path – but put his religious beliefs on the line, as well. googling Mormons & Jews and finding such a dramatic, epic otherworldly battle of beliefs and practice, not to mention worldview, more end-of-life, view – wildly raging – online – was just unbelievable. when little collages like this = provoke such conceptual firestorms – it makes you almost believe the apocalypse – is – !! really around the corner . .