Note: The following interview contains explicit language that some readers might find offensive.
If you’re not a big sports fan, or consider art more your speed, you’ve likely been in the position of having to watch a game — be it on television or at the local high school — without really caring which team takes home the trophy. You may have, however, become oddly fixated on the aesthetics of it all, the way the court, when seen from afar, feels like a colorful, geometric plane of slowly shifting parts.
That’s sort of what happened with artist Devin Strother. “I’ve been a second, third party fan of basketball for a while,” he explained to The Huffington Post. “My dad and my brother were very avid fans and my best friends were really into it. I’ve grown up around it and had to go to people’s houses and watch games. I’ve always watched the game from this other point of view. I wasn’t really watching the game I was more watching all the things that go around basketball, more so than the game. And the courts, they’re all so different, from college to high school to the pros. To me, they’re like a piece in themselves.”
Strother, Devin Troy Strother x Rob Pruitt x Cory Arcangel x Walead Beshty x A Sad Face x 10 Michael Jordans, 2014, ink jet, air brush, acrylic, oil varnish, painted paper on birch panel, 60 x 84 x 2 in
Basketball is at the center of Strother’s newest exhibition at Marlborough Gallery, which will be transformed into a basketball court for the occasion. More specifically, the show revolves around “Space Jam,” yes, the 1996 work of movie magic in which Michael Jordan takes on Bugs Bunny and his team of criminal cartoon aliens. (You know you want to hear the theme song now: “Here’s your chance, do your dance at the Space Jam.”)
Strother was presented the opportunity in September to hold an exhibition in December, just days after watching the movie. And with only a couple of months before the entire unborn show had to be shipped off to New York, the frantic pace shed new light on the many meanings of a Space Jam. “It was initially a play on words,” Strother said. “It was that issue of having to deal with this huge space and what to jam into it.”
Strother, we won nigga we won (nigga, we actually lost, again), 2014, polyethylene vinyl flags on vinyl tarp stretched, 120 x 66 x 2 in
The more he thought about it, the more sense it made. “The title correlates to making work for a show; it’s kind of meta, about space but also about action. Space like outer space but also a gallery space. It was all coming together. And I had made some Michael Jordan paintings when I was living in Europe, so I decided to go on a little Michael Jordan riff.”
The artworks on view play off the imagery associated with basketball — from images of Jordan himself to polyethylene vinyl flags to gilded Styrofoam cups that make you almost taste the sweaty Gatorade. And then there are the hologram paintings, inspired by the tags of NBA clothing and the multicolored glow of basketball cards.
Strother, I got a Robert Motherwell all over my brand new holograms (view 1), 2014, hologram mylar, mounted on acrylic sheet, poly-glue, water based vinyl paint, 60 x 84 x 2 in
“I always associated that hologram print with sports,” Strother explained, “but it also has this weird celestial feel to it. It’s like a color prism with this weird, nebula, color spectrum going on. Through this unifying thing I was able to explore the aesthetics of space and basketball at the same time.”
Strother applied sweeping strokes of pigment over his holographic canvases, sometimes in the style of Joan Miro, Lynda Benglis or Barnett Newman. “Pouring color on top of the hologram, which is basically a giant field of color, I was trying to be meta. You have color on top of a color spectrum, gradient on gradient.”
Strother, just a bunch of niggas in space reedited (tell that nigga jordan, he made a mess trying to be gerhard richter) , 2014, automotive paint, acrylic, and painted paper on birch panel, 96 x 72 x 2 in
For the duration of the show, Marlborough Chelsea will be revamped into a three-part space resembling a warm-up area, a locker room and a court.
The paintings and sculptures on view are pulsing with movement, flatness and light, the cartoonish figures taking the all-American sport to cosmic territory. Sprinkled references to artists including Walead Beshty and Cory Arcangel mingle with allusions to the ’90s sports family comedy, snarling up high brow and low brow like they’re live-action and animation. Like the movie it references, Strother’s ‘Space jam’ is fun and accessible when it first hits your brain; it’s only later you realize how weird and convoluted the experience was.
Strother, When the lights go out in the stadium (nigga where the light switch) (email), 2014, automotive paint and acrylic on birch panel, 48 x 60 x 2 in
If you’re familiar with Strother’s works, you know the artist has a reputation for his funny and expletive-splattered titles, which plop black slang into a prim and proper art gallery setting. Just visualize a stuffy collector expressing his love for “just a bunch of niggas in space reedited (tell that nigga jordan, he made a mess trying to be gerhard richter),” and you’ll get the picture. Yes, that’s the title of a piece.
“I can look at something and figure out something that makes me laugh about it, and go from there. I just have to spend time with the work and figure out what it’s doing, what it’s not doing, what it’s trying to do. Luckily I can be open about its failures and be able to point those out and have fun with it. I’m not trying to be poetic about it.”
Strother, I got a Clifford Still all over my brand new holograms (view 1), 2014, hologram mylar, mounted on acrylic sheet, poly-glue, water based vinyl paint, 60 x 72 x 2 in
And yet there is something a little poetic about it. The leveling of a basketball court and an art gallery, Michael Jordan and Joan Miro, Rob Pruitt and Marvin the Martian. It’s a physical jamming together of disparate spaces that yields unlikely moments of overlap and symmetry. Strother brings the unpretentious pleasures of B-grade comedies and regional sports matches to the land of Chelsea — a site as far away, in theory, as Looney Tune Land.