Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 1, No. 1, 2002

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Robert J. Lewis
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by Robert J. Lewis

Les CosgrovePop Art emerged in the 1950s in England and the US. It was initially a reaction against Abstract Expressionism. Its luminaries were Jasper Johns, Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. They worked with mostly flat areas, unmixed colors and mechanical techniques, virtually removing the artist from the creative process. From flags, to beer cans, to cartoons, they co-opted mostly assembly line culture and repackaged it, blurring the distinction between high and low art.

Pop Art was the first movement to propose that if there were a crisis in the visual arts, it was because the art buyer could no longer distinguish between fine art and commercial art. If a masterpiece, in part, derives from its uniqueness, its opposite is everything mass-produced, which is why the Mona Lisa is high art and a Cadbury candy bar wrapper isn't, that is until Andy Warhol (1928-87) turned the art world upside down. More interested in making a statement about art than creating it, Warhol removed the wrap-around packaging of a Campbell's soup can, blew it up to ten times its original, and sold it as an artwork for thousands of dollars, proving that Americans were the least artistically discriminating people on the planet. What he couldn't have predicted was how quickly, unabashedly the rest of the world would emulate the American example.

She Loves Me Not © Les CosgrovePop Art enjoyed two decades of high scandal and celebrity before being succeeded by Minimalism, Post Modernism and Installation Art. But for artists for whom Pop remains their genre of choice, it is because in the hands of its most skilled practitioners it can illuminate the modern urban landscape like no other art form.

It's a downright dirty shame that today's critics -- and the public they inform -- give such short shrift to Pop Art which they regard as a product only somewhat more sophisticated than the cartoon. Viewers, however, whose judgment has not been clouded by preconceived notions of what art should be, will discover in the art of Les Cosgrove, for example, paintings whose deceptive Pop simplicity belie their serious subject matter.

As an exponent of a Pop Art that combines new forms with a more conservative agenda, Les Cosgrove's method, like that of phenomenology, is to strip away everything that does not properly belong to a subject in order to disclose its essence. If Pop's founding fathers made fun of the art world and themselves, Cosgrove's very serious art functions as a critique of a world whose community of orphans and poseurs comes from mostly mall culture and suburbia. Her world is populated with prototypes peculiar to the age of globalization, where angst, ennui and disconnect are the unacknowledged building blocks of disaffected youth. In The Bag© Les Cosgrove Head Over Heals © Les CosgroveSnobWe encounter mostly young women, who are not so much victims as highly vulnerable to the invisible imperatives of culture that determine how we dress, express our sexuality, and spend money we don't have. The cumulative effect of Cosgrove's work is to persuade us of her sympathy for a generation that has lost contact with its vital center, for whom freedom is a scary, boundless, dark space stripped of everything recognizable. The Spy © Les Cosgrove

There is no greater risk in the arts than transparency, where the exposed The Mist © Les Cosgrove work turns every passerby into a critic with a Second Floor © Les Cosgroveblunt scalpel for pen, where what is omitted in a work is tantamount to personal signature. Cosgrove's style is lean and Spartan; her characters cannot dissimulate. Their confession about how they feel about themselves in the world, like the simple cry of a child, goes straight to the heart. And if we find ourselves uncomfortable before the fact that an art so simple and unassuming can be so affecting, one only has to think of the incomparably illuminating middle movements of Mozart.Mosquito © Les CosgroveBreakfast Time© Les Cosgrove

Les Cosgrove is an artist who continues to evolve and provoke, whose work faithfully records the pulse and heart beat of a people languishing in the no man's land 'between heaven and Armageddon,' mistrustful of values that don't fit, while at the same time fearful that true value may be nothing more than a chimera, an empty promise hardly worth waiting -- and dying for.


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