Artist Michael Welsh is one of my best friends. As such, it's not really all that appropriate to write a proper review of his current solo exhibition, "When Wishes Are Horses, Beggars Will Ride," at Interstate Projects in Brooklyn. So please, consider this instead a transparently nepotistic, but resoundingly firm and earnest, endorsement of the recent body of new work he's been grinding away at for the last half of a year. Many describe his work as feeling formally out-of-time, simultaneously from an era long since past and also from one that's yet to come. He's obsessed with the paranormal, with science fiction, and with process-based art making. What grabs my attention is the apocalyptic or survivalist aspects of his sculptural output. Considering that in the last week the state of Hawaii briefly believed itself to be under impending nuclear attack, the conceptual underpinnings in Welsh's practice are ironically very much of the now.
The installation at Interstate Projects is unsettling, giving a sense that one has stumbled upon the abandoned doomsday bunker of an aesthetically-unhinged, but practically-minded, survivor of some manmade catastrophe. Interstate's underground gallery rooms are ideal settings for Welsh's work and he capitalizes on the clinical florescent lighting and inherently dampened concrete foundation. It's reminiscent of interior photos from Unabomber Ted Kaczynski's off-the-grid Montana cabin, a tinkerer's lair where society's discarded material goods are reimagined into functional objects. But where Kaczynski's repurposing yielded tools of destruction, Welsh's embody, upon extended contemplation, the joyful act of creation. Here perhaps lived a resourceful hippie punk with a compulsion to weave elaborate tie-dyed tapestries, to raise and care for endangered plants, to figure out the intricacies of DIY home cooling systems. The attention to decoration on the swamp coolers, in particular, suggests an author who, despite possibly having to weather a nuclear winter below ground, maintained the energy to make beautiful pictures.
The tapestries themselves are elaborate eye candy. Contrasting their roughness and heaviness, there's a tenderness to them in both color and material. One imagines Welsh's hippie punk passing evenings away on the floor piecing together these monuments to sunshine, to fire, to the cosmos, and to earth. Kaczynski, too, took great pride in the formal qualities of his work, but it was in the interest of efficacy and pride. His highly-innovative IEDs were impressive, but meant as definitive statements rather than metaphors. In "When Wishes Are Horses, Beggars Will Ride," viewers are given an opportunity to consider and reflect upon objects meant to evoke the relationship between ourselves and the elements of the natural world that sustain us. Indeed, they are monuments; effigies to what could have been a harmonious balance between humankind and the planet. It is in that sense that the exhibition returns viewers to disquieting feelings. How far into the near-future will we, by necessity, return to making objects ourselves instead of having them same-day delivered by Amazon?
Although sometimes socially gruff (LOL), my friend Michael Welsh has a poetic heart. His work might initially appear overtly masculine or like it's trying to come across as punk, but I've always thought of him in the same way that I think about Iggy Pop rolling around in broken glass. It's visceral and it's jarring, but at its core is an expression of the outrageous joy of being alive. That Welsh's work is often perceived as borrowing from survivalist aesthetics shouldn't relegate it to being seen as reactionary or paranoid. In fact, it's quite the opposite; that desire to sustain the lived experience, to communicate beauty, and to use his hands to express visually what can't be expressed verbally is just a different type of concrete poetry.
Scroll down for more images. And make sure to stop by the show before it closes on February 4th.
Michael Welsh's "When Wishes Are Horses, Beggars Will Ride" is on view at Interstate Projects, 66 Knickerbocker Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11237 through February 4th.