Appropriation has been contemporary art’s buzz word since Andy Warhol hung his Campell’s Soup Cans at an LA gallery in the early 1960s. Whether copying consumer products as Warhol did, or Roy Lichtenstein with comics, the replication of common (pop) objects — usually purged of their original context — for the purpose of creating art has been at the center of the Western picture-making tradition for at least 50 years. It’s also been its bete noire.
Jose Maria Cano works within this tradition, copying stuff of seemingly no lasting significance and turning it into largish encaustic (wax) paintings. A selection of the Spanish-born, London-based artist’s work is currently on view at Lin & Lin Gallery (大未來林舍畫廊), spanning the past six years in a show titled Dark Side of the Moon. It ends Nov. 10.
Cano is probably better known as a pop star. Forming a third of Mecano, a hugely successful Spanish pop group active in the 1980s and early 1990s, he has composed music for the likes of Julio Iglesias and the tenor Placido Domingo. He developed a deeper interest in drawing and encaustic, which he had learned when he was younger in the expectation that he would pursue a career in architecture. But in the 1990s, he traded in his rock stardom to pursue a career in fine art.
Cano’s earliest solo show revealed that he wasn’t afraid of making the personal public, appropriating autobiographical ephemera — documents, drawings, letters — for the purposes of laying bare the darker corners of the human psyche. This is Just Business put the crises and cruces of his messy divorce on display, depicting aggressive letters from his wife’s lawyers, tempered by drawings made by his son, who has Asperger’s syndrome. At root, marriage is a financial arrangement, the wax paintings suggested, and divorce is war, with children the main casualties.
He followed this up later with the subversive Masturbation (“Masturbation is the purest form of manipulation. People do it all the time, but no-one wants to talk about it”). Here is a man, you think, who isn’t afraid of letting it all hang out. With Dark Side of the Moon, however, he takes the viewer in a completely different direction, shifting from the personal to the public, while retaining the wax medium.
The gallery has assembled paintings from Cano’s Wall Street series, of which Wall Street 100 and Wall Street Wax Museum are on display. Captains of finance such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Warren Buffett (all on display) feature prominently in the former, while the latter, situated in a different space, is given over to 10 works commissioned by a high-profile Asian collector, collectively titled China 10, and include Mao Zedong (毛澤東), Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and the Dalai Lama.
Cano collectively dubs the figures in both series a “club of important people.” They are important because they’ve appeared as hedcuts — small portraits of newsmakers rendered in a stippled or pointillist manner — in the illustrious Wall Street Journal (WSJ), from which Cano appropriates and enlarges them into his 2.1m by 1.5m encaustic paintings.
The paintings hang in a shrine-like space, lights dimmed mausoleum-like to add an aura of the eternal. The paintings and their arrangement, the gallery and artist want us to know, serves as both a memorial and a testament to public figures who have a gained heroic status, if only at a particular place in time.