When I look at Jonathan Marshall's Book of Lenny at Art Palace the first thing I see is it's similarity to a lot of other art I've seen recently, but then I remember that it's important to differentiate between trends and trendiness. There's a whole complex of nostalgic explorer/frontier/americana/Ninteenth century imagery in art by today's young men. At worst, it's a convenient pre-digested menu of images for people who don't know what to do with themselves, like those ubiquitous new-wave squiggles, tortured cacti and toothy barking dogs favored by art students of the eighties; but at its best, there's something more — there's obviously a widespread interest in dredging up larger-than-life masculine identities and trying them on for size.
The centerpiece of Marshall's show is a rickety homemade raft. Like the raft Justin Boyd built for his show at Arthouse, and Michael McKean's riverboat in his The Possibility of Men and the River Shallows at Diverseworks earlier this year, it symbolizes the mytho-poetic masculine journey. The Odyssey recast in a particularly Ninteenth-century American idiom. In Marshall's case, there's a do-it yourself patheticism that implies that he's not going to live up to his heroes.
The well-edited eight minute video that explains Marshall's show tells the tale of a frontier-style voyage of discovery, the protagonist costumed with an immense, obvously fake patriarchal beard. It's an old, old symbolism. Just as King Tut wore a fake lapis lazuli chin beard as a mark of his office as Pharaoh, the artist, normally clean shaven, is literally trying on an identity that signifies potency and wisdom.
The profuse, shaggy hair in many of Marshall's drawings is precisely the same shaggy hair in Seth Alverson's drawings, and the trio of bearded plaster heads included as the presiding geniuses alongside McKean's riverboat.
I can't even begin to say all there is to be said about such broad thematic and stylistic trends in a blog post, but at least it's a start . . .