William Pohida: Sellout
Working out of a Williamsburg, Brooklyn studio, William Powhida thinks of his projects as alternative forms of writing, such as a faux New York Magazine spread, where the images and text are drawn and painted. Similar to that work is “Rolling Stone: Sellout,” (graphite and gouache on panel, 54 x 44 inches, 2008), a counterfeit feature article that was part of his exhibition “Sellout,” at Seattle's Platform Gallery in 2008. He continues his tableaux mordant of celebrity status, but here he switches templates from the contemporary art world to the etiquette of the music scene, wherein he charts one William Powhida, a fictional character who is a rock superstar.
A compendium of ersatz album covers, set lists, suicide notes, a detailed catalogue of character types featuring musicians, actors and artists, record reviews and the politics of ass are all subjects of William Powhida's (the artist) drawings and paintings which explore the landscape of stardom with its derigueur misbehavior(s). “Be cool with excessive drug use,” is one of the lines in “Show Demands,” (graphite and gouache on panel, 14 x 11 inches, 2008), which is in the form of a checklist that also addresses performer’s legendary level of insecurity: “absolutely no recognized opening acts – no good ones either,” is followed by “must have legit sound guy who can make me sound okay no matter what.”
Scraps of things that he collected and describes as “bad personal narrative,” constructed his 2002 MFA show, and forms the armature for his work, as does his background as a writer: he wrote criticism for The Brooklyn Rail for three years, and worked with writers while at Syracuse University. In an interview on Badatsports, a weekly podcast produced in Chicago, he says that he is, “driven by middle-class desperation, and the non-meritocracy of the art world,” with its notorious egos and etiquette, (such as the demand that a collector buy two works, one going to the museum). Previous works include “The New York Enemies List,” and “The New York Allies List.” Some of the candidates elected to these works shrilled, notably gallerist Zach Feuer, upon whom Powhida placed a hex.
Something imperfect and delicate is conveyed in Powhida’s brittle lines of text and gossamer, angular washes which contain very precise moments of subjectivity: it’s easy to see the artist’s engagement with each moment as he labored to produce the painted words and images that cross the roiling, bilious movement of the ‘pages’ of the Rolling Stone feature article.
He’s adept at using (and bending) the templating of mainstream entertainment publications: the ‘group’ photograph taken on a roof-top, slacker-eight-ball style, with its enforced idiosyncrasy; text used as a framing device for portraits and pull quotes (“There were strippers, musicians, midgets, artists and celebrities rolling in and out of the place. I’ve never seen so many drugs.”). Powhida weaves a densely detailed web that is as much a function of expectation as an attempt to describe the desires of the situation at hand. In nearly all the works there is some detail that coheres around a sort of disturbance or flux in the scene that moves the subject matter into the symbolic register, such as the rehearsal session that’s improbably adorned with nude chicks arranged like quotation marks in “The Bastard Album Cover,” (archival inkjet print, 30 x 17 inches). In “Rock Wall,” (graphite and gouache on panel, 54 x 44 inches, 2008) Powhida conflates two standard-issue ‘items’ of rock - the groupie with tour dates arrayed across her skin (rather than on a T-shirt).
While the previous work was a kind of cartography of the New York art scene, the newer work borrows that aspect and continues through it by the fabrication at the edge of persona and alter ego. Therein exists the elegance, the punctum of Powhida’s work: he uses these larger issues, the templating of form and its object nature, as if it had a plasticity, that he sees and uses, and helps his viewers to.