Sophisticated Ignorance acrylic, spray paint & oil stick on canvas, 60x54”
a.k.a. They Gave Us Lemons, 2012
Repost of my article at ModernDallas.net
Identity has been a core investigation for many artists throughout history. From Rembrandt attempting to portray himself as a middle class insider in his early self-portraits, to his very human and wiser painting of himself in his later years which revealed his conflicting emotions of a vulnerable person while being a confident painter. Fahamu Pecou’s self-portraits remind me of the young Rembrandt, where the pressures of their culture around the two artists help define the way they portray themselves.
I compare Pecou to Rembrandt, because essentially they were/are keen observers of their surroundings and then use themselves to reflect a broader attitude and outward expectation by others. Pecou has shifted the Hip Hop generation narrative to apply to a visual artist. The importance of image, costume, stage, and setting carefully worked into his images to help service a greater purpose of personal identity. Hints of Basquiat appear in a work like “Sophisticated Ignorance a.k.a. They Gave Us Lemons,” with small painting of a cartoon lemon, hand scrolled words, and text marked out with paint. This Neo-Expressionist style creeps in an otherwise realist type work in the same way a musician might sample an older artist. The title of the painting implies the complex relationship he has with his cultural surroundings, past and present.
However, Pecou’s images do leave an impression of a strong confident individual that knows how the promotional machine works in the world and he knows how to use it to his advantage. Of course, like Rembrandt, this is a mask of sorts. Both artists used self-portrait as a vehicle to reach more people in a high competitive art world, but I especially see Pecou showing a kind of exaggerated hubris image of himself in these paintings. An outward showing of strength and masculinity. I’m reminded of the work by Kehinde Wiley and his exploration of race and self- image through his portraits. Pecou might not be as subtle as Wiley, but Pecou is no less intense in creating strong feelings of Self through acknowledging those influences on his constructed identity.
I have seen several shows at Conduit Gallery over the years and I have never tired over this well captures the spirit of the age, a piece of himself, but also a shared experience of feeling over confident and self-important in moments of our lives. Pecou holds the self-portrait with such gravitas, I am excited to see his work when he becomes older. I wonder how his identity will change with age and experience. See his work through August 16th at Conduit Gallery. Plus, I understand he has just received a large prize for the Working Artist Project given by the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, jurored by Franklin Sirmans.
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