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Wootini meets MoMA in a color-theory smackdown

Palette royale

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Top to bottom: "Finch," "Right Eye," "Wallpaper Skull," "Kiss." First three are digital prints on paper, last is digital print on greenboard. All from 2008. - IMAGES COURTESY OF WOOTINI
  • Images courtesy of Wootini
  • Top to bottom: "Finch," "Right Eye," "Wallpaper Skull," "Kiss." First three are digital prints on paper, last is digital print on greenboard. All from 2008.

I Will Miss You When I'm Gone
Through April 7
Wootini
Carr Mill Mall, 200 N. Greensboro St., Carrboro • 933-6061

Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp are among the many artists featured in Color Chart: Reinventing Color, 1950 to Today, a vibrant blockbuster exhibition currently on view at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. The exhibition maps the integration of the color palette of standardized commercial paint into the language of contemporary art production.

A little closer to home, Carrboro's gallery/ monster-toy shop Wootini is mapping another lexicon of color. Currently on view is a show called I Will Miss You When I'm Gone by an artist who goes by the name of UPSO. UPSO is the pseudonym of Dustin Amery Hostetler, a kaleidoscopically talented designer, curator, publisher and artist.

On one wall, shiny metal clips hold small digital prints done in black, white and gray tones with key elements of color. Hostetler traffics in a highly delimited iconography that includes birds, skulls and Sharpie pens. The color in these prints inhabits a conceptual space completely separate from the images. A monochrome grey bird appears to be perched on a small accumulation of diamond-shaped forms, a crystalline cluster of radiant color. Skulls are embellished with similar multicolor diamond shards punctuated by an occasional color wheel that serves as a kind of wink or trigger for a whole other way of thinking about color (flashbacks to Josef Albers and/or color theory). Hostetler's skulls echo Damien Hirst's recently-hyped diamond-encrusted human skull. The parallel underscores Hostetler's positioning of color as a commodity, engaging it in ways that frame it as literally precious, of high market value (if your market is aesthetic impact and your currency is visual vibrancy). For the record, the Sharpie-pen pieces have no color at all, which is like a mental trompe l'oeil. The rest of the works incorporate color, and the counterintuitive non-color of the Sharpie-pen works messes with your head. Other prints include neo-Buñuelian close-ups on a human eye, projectile color shards exploding outward, recasting the eye as sender of information rather than passive receiver.

Wootini's other wall holds a series of single-panel prints that read like frames from a comic strip or a string of brash cinematic stills. It is difficult not to view these images without construing a narrative—for some film geeks this will bring to mind the montage experiments of Russian filmmaker Lev Kuleshov, who mined the power of editing to generate a range of associative meanings dependent solely on the juxtaposition of images. Hostetler's first image presents the artist himself, mouth open, caught in mid-swig of "UPSO" brand beer (replete with skull logo), a fantastical rendering in blacks, whites and grays, with barely perceptible occurrences of color wheels camouflaged as carbonated bubbles flowing toward the artist's gaping mouth. The second image is a cross-section of the artist's face, a startled look in his eyes, Ray-Ban logo of his glasses front and center, no color in the entire composition with the exception of a single color-wheel guest-starring in the lower right-hand corner.

What follows feels like an Alice-in-Wonderland bad trip: Close-ups on the artist's eyes registering madness, diamond shapes running fierce trajectories outward. Mirror images of the artist facing himself across two separate panels sending color signals to himself. Static images of a Casio wristwatch (7:19:37 p.m.). A pocket knife. Several of the images are offset by UPSO wallpaper, a riot of diamond shapes, skulls and color wheels, registering equal parts fun and fear. Now the artist is seen kissing a woman (Hostetler's wife). Their eyes are open, locked in a mutual gaze diagrammed by stuttering red lines. Final image, the disembodied head of the woman, floating against a black backdrop of UPSO patterns. She expels an expanding gust of colorless diamond forms from her mouth.

Hostetler/ UPSO's psychedelic extremes bring to mind the infamous cat drawings of Louis Wain in the 1920s, which marked his progression into schizophrenia. However, Hostetler's imagery doesn't seem to reflect a state of psychological degeneration but rather a mind that is capable of processing high degrees of visual and conceptual complexity. In all of these images, color serves as an activator, an almost supernatural force that catalyzes the UPSO world. The diamond color forms suggest another crystalline structure, DNA, casting color as an essential encoded structure from which all life regenerates. Hostetler's signature phrase, "I will miss you when I'm gone," could be read as a first-person statement made by color itself, entering gray zones for a brief encounter, only to work its magic, desaturate and disappear.

Maybe the folks at MoMA should head out this way.

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