A critic's perspective on Near Mint/Mint

This was posted on the Facebook page "Utah's Art Critic: Ehren E. Clark,"  on January 25:


Justin Wheatley: Cards, Cards, Cards and Deconstruction

I have a very good friend whom those of you in the art community will need no introduction to, Mr Justin Wheatley, who is in a conundrum and I feel this is an ideal time for Utah’s Art Critic, AKA Ehren E. Clark, to lend his good buddy a hand, which is what good friends do, right?

Firstly, what many of you who understand Wheatley’s art is, is that he is at root an existential artist, or at least, an artist who probes questions about the true nature of reality, especially as it applies beneath the surface. This is why so many of you know Wheatley’s homes that were an early development, then to larger structures, buildings in cities, bridges including the Manhattan. Most recently at a triumphant show of work at Finch Lane this spring, Wheatley chose to paint more nebulous buildings, structures, and the idea of ambiguity in a home was emphasized. Why, might one ask, is the reason for all of this attention on homes and building structures?

The truth of the matter is that when questioning human existential being, what more elemental in terms of form to provide a launching point in asking paradigmatic questions about human reality than the home, the city building, the bridge, and most certainly the nebulous structures that were featured recently?

It is the skin to the body. One looks externally to ask about the internal and quite often, elements that are less than physical or quantifiable can be considered when looking externally, more than often, in fact. What is the temperament of this person? Are they kind or not? Are they to be approached or should one stay away? Do they look generous enough to offer the time or give directions or are they the sort to rudely turn away? These qualities of character are just as easily perceived than the more physical such as is he attractive to you? What age is she? Is he physically fit? Is this person healthy or sickly? Is this person from appearances wealthy or poor or somewhere in the middle? Do they groom and take care of themselves?

Often, the positive attributes of the former will coincide with the positive attributes of the latter but of course this is never an absolute case and there are always unanswerable questions about an individual when just looking at them.

This is the same kind of philosophy of humanity Wheatley is presenting when focusing on an exterior of a home etc. A home or a building may have external attributes that cause one to assume characteristics about the goings on inside. A well kept garden on a neatly trimmed home indicates a well kept family or individual. The same for a building, that implies the office space or business ethics maintain discipline and those involved are the same. But is this always the case?

Of course not. Even the most charming or even grandest of homes might domesticate a living situation with someone who is entirely unfriendly, rude, anti-social, unwilling to contribute, to serve, to give of themselves, these homes can house the worst kinds of individuals just like the opposite, a meager and unkempt home may inhabit someone who is generous, kind, charitable and good, but may have an equally meager income due to elements entirely not of their own doing, a college student, or a hipster! They could be disabled, depressed for being alone, aged, sick, unloved. The building might be in a state of decay because the occupants are not able to pay bills for reasons entirely disparate from any association with their own character.
It seems that these anachronisms are the kind which Wheatley is most interested in and the questions of the non-absolute, unanswerable, that we simply can never know by exteriors but make this investigation so provocative when seen with Wheatley's eye for particulars of ambiguity, difference, irony, inconsistency, and a vagueness of “what is,” which apparently for Wheatley, “never IS.”

Bearing this essential philosophical paradigm in mind, it then becomes possible to enable the act of aid that led to this discourse. The situation is that Wheatley has many, many thousands of baseball cards and is interested, has already begun, using them in ways that can further his artistic milieu and function as an extension to his primary body of work. In the initial stages, Wheatley was at a loss as to how he might facilitate this and incorporate the project into his work and make something of it significant. After some difficulty, he has arrived at a point that finds these baseball cards and his treatment of them in line with his aesthetics in general, and I would like to take the opportunity to dictate to Wheatley here just why I see this latest jaunt as a successful one and one that is in tune with his philosophy, and how, and that this is a manner that would be wise to persist in.

I will discuss the four cards Wheatley posted on Facebook just days ago and why I feel they are a complete success and fall in line with his essential philosophies.

The first is a basketball card. Wheatley has cut some of the length off of each side of the inner photograph and then applied the two outer edges so it appears this is an elongated basketball card, but for the sake of art, we know very well it is not. In this play of the shape of the card, the elongation, Wheatley is deconstructing the absolute shape that is ubiquitous in sport and trading cards, and in this, with this athlete that is already so elongated himself, presents a synthesized version of the tradition card and shown an alternative, stylistically congruent, that presents a stopping short on the fundamental nature of the card and begs the question of just why does it have to be so and what is the reality of this century or so old tradition that has maintained the card be one shape? Is there anything to it at all besides tradition? Apparently there is as this card is so aesthetically pleasing.

The second card is another deconstruction. Wheatley presents a card that has been manipulated by placing one half of the card a male figure from the Star Trek Next Generation series and on the right a female. The card still functions and has even more appeal now with two popular figures instead of one, but on the card and even broader, in the media, how do we perceive certain characters and certain characteristics when identity is as real as the mutation of the two figures… not very.

The third card is as equally provocative and deconstructive. Here we have a popular baseball player, whose head has been cut off, and the top strip reattached to give it a semblance of something purposefully made. Here, Wheatley is presenting a major commentary that again, hinges on identity, and asks, is it the game we love or is it the sports hero, all of the hype… and there is so much hype?

If you were to say the fourth card is similar to the first you would be right only in that it portrays basketball. Everything else is different. Wheatley has not carefully cut the sides and reapplied the borders but cut right down the middle of the athlete, something imaginably blasphemous to any lover of basketball cards and especially a fan of this athlete. But it is a total defacement of the card that has been brutalized. Is this taboo? Are such cards a sacred part of our culture where such things just should not be done? We all might have our ideas on this but Wheatley has done it and unashamedly presents the case that invokes either a devil may care attitude or hot blood, never the less, it is the artist who takes the risks and risks come with their cautions.

In all four of these cards, the key element that is being officiated here is classic deconstruction. In the first, the very structure of the card is being deconstructed, the second, identity, in cards and in the media, the third, of sports and the idea of hero and celebrity or “just a game.” The fourth was a deconstruction on the sanctity of the card itself and the injury to the player who is being defaced, should this be taboo just as American as anti-flag burning or defacing the dollar bill.

This discussion has taught me more than I had already learned about Wheatley, as he is, from the many writings I have on him thus far as can be seen by the abundance on this page and many published, my favorite subject, as there really is no end to the investigation of his ever developing work. But the element of deconstruction in all of Wheatley’s work being paramount to the questioning addressed throughout this discussion, that we, as viewers, are presented with a duality and what the synthesis might be is the core of the work... this it so exciting!

With the cards, if Wheatley, “Hi Justin!” can maintain his “smarts” and his “invenzione” as they say in Italy, this construction, which is an actual means to a deconstruction, is something brilliant and provocative and completely attuned with the entire oeuvre and is less an appendage and is more an organic continuation of a body of work that is already airtight… and oh so fine. Can’t wait till Friday friend. EEC4