ARTIST PROFILE: MICHAEL PELLEW
- Jul 18 2022
- Ido Nahari is a sociologist, researcher and writer who works in the fields of cultural revivalism, social welfare and the commodification of emotions. Born in Jerusalem and currently living in Berlin, Nahari holds a Master of Science in Culture and Society from the London School of Economics and Political Science, where he investigated the marketability of authenticity.
More than anything, I loved drawing stick figures with my older sister. Crayons on cramped paper sketched lunar smiles. We were not apt technical illustrators, and we didn’t want to be. There was an intended gulf between the simple presentation of our characters, their dashed eyes and three line hats, and the intricate biographies with which we assigned them; a divide between how we represented the world and what we thought of it. It was in tune with our understanding of empathy, since, at that point, we had a queasy feeling about interesting encounters told in our morning cartoons only by shady and mysterious characters. That’s why whenever we heard the chunky pacific blue crayon smudge and crumble on the sketchboard, it was a squiggly assertion that naivety could intrigue, and that skill and imagination both gain a sense of validation when the lines between them remain blurred. Looking back at it now, I would just like to know why is it that the gap between artistic execution and intention is forgiven in children, sometimes even celebrated with their primitive paintings slapped on the refrigerator door, but scorned in adults? Does the thought no longer count when art is not supported by the glue that binds the adult labor market together– that is, value that is extracted by supposed technical mastery?
There’s something quite straightforward as to why this set of questions stuck to me when I saw the works of Michael Pellew for the first time. My second reaction after a row of rolling giggles was to ask if this forty something years old Brooklyn based artist is taking the piss. Paying homage to the musicians that play a set of ongoing roles in his biography, Pellew covers most of his drawings with so many depictions of icons ranging from Taylor Swift to Prince, Elvis to Nirvana. Maybe he digs them. Maybe they remind him of a coveted memory– a peck behind a bush, glimpses in the dark. Maybe he just detests all of them and the industry that milks young talent like melodic cash cows. The reason why it’s so hard to tell, is because the iconic is reduced to the pedestrian and the celebrity is treated as mundane in Pellow’s works. In other words, all the mostly white figures in his paintings look like a bunch of morons. His works, such as MTV Classic Heroes or Back in Black, stack dozens of celebrities that introduce themselves next to one another. “I’m Mariah Carey”, says one. “I’m Alice Cooper”, says another. With so many lookalikes to survey in one go, the famous are no longer singular entities. They’ve transformed into the crowds they feed off of. In their childish introductions and replicated looks, the tables have suddenly turned. Pellow reveals the basic truth that it is the least alienated that cater to the individuality of their listeners and consumers. In Pellow’s flipped world, Grammy winners and record breakers become the audience of our own solitary stardom. By having the characters introduce themselves, Pellew allocates you as the subject of their desire. All of a sudden you’ll find yourself with the unexpected chore of validating their musical execution and imaginative intention.
Banner: Michael Pellew, MTV Social 2017, mixed media on paper, 25 x 33 inches framed
This Contribution was released with the support of Rudolf Augstein Stiftung, Bundesverband Soziokultur, Neustarthilfe, Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien.