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John Breiner: The Scales that Weigh the Whales

Invisible NYC
148 Orchard Street, between Stanton and Rivington, 212-228-1358
East Village / Lower East Side
March 30 - May 13, 2006
Reception: Thursday, March 30, 7 - 10 PM
Web Site

John Breiner doesn’t consider himself a narrative artist, although his art addresses current political and social themes. He began the last half of the work for this exhibit right around the hurricane Katrina disaster, an event that highlighted a state of blissful ignorance while disaster, suffering, and danger loomed from all sides. This contradiction can be seen in his images of vacant, satisfied figures amid explosions of dense, dark flowers in which alligators and other animals of prey lurk, or in scenes of oblivious children playing in blood red water suggesting some ominous fate. While his subject matter is generally dark, his approach remains humorous and light-hearted through his use of playful color and, at times, absurd combinations of imagery.

Throughout Mr. Breiner’s works are the conjoining ideas of balance (or imbalance), dreams and reality, seen in his asymmetrical compositions that break through Durer-inspired borders. His subject matter, for example, includes views of city-life peppered with surreal and foreboding iconography such as the owl whose keen eyesight is also a comment on current privacy laws. There are recurring themes of people being stalked by animals, whales that swallow everything in their paths, and cauliflower ears – Mr. Breiner’s metaphor for being hit in the head with pop culture and neatly manufactured information. Each visual component while seemingly fantastical is utterly deliberate as seen in the chef’s head wedged between the horde of cliché police heads that serve as a border in “Streets are Hot”.

Mr. Breiner pulls his imagery and subject matter from found sources – whether it be old photographs or mass produced pictures – which he then redefines and reinterprets. He has thousands of obscure, one-of a kind photographs that he has found abandoned and discarded on the street or in thrift stores. He uses many of these images as well as popular scenes as the subjects of his surreal landscapes and dream-like compositions. For example, a photograph of the unveiling of a Christo artwork is reinvented becoming the rescue – or not, the viewer is unsure – of a beached whale. He employs book jackets and gutted books that he then reconstructs. He treats the disemboweled book carcasses as artifacts and treasures, each one becoming a precious window into a contemporary, upside-down, parallel universe. His works combine etching, drawing, painting, Xeroxed copies of photos as well as his own original drawings, and found objects. Each work invites the viewer to embark on a type of time travel. He states:

“This project has lead into an overall love of everything old and weathered since I was first attracted to the yellowing covers of these books. Now I’ve adapted a method of working where I let the surface tell me what needs to be placed on it and how. I couldn’t imagine working on a blank canvas. I need a surface with a soul that shows its travels through life. It gives me an opportunity to show mine”.
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