Steven Wolf Fine Arts San Francisco artwork

Art Work Makes You Free
Paul Mavrides
Opening Reception, Saturday January 4, 6-8 pm.
January 4 - Feb 15, 2014

Underground artist Paul Mavrides returns to the gallery world after a 10-year absence with a show of found-object word paintings that will BLOW YOUR JADED MIND. A longtime devotee of the black artsthat is, black comedy and black velvet, which he's been known to paint onMavrides once again has produced a bitterly funny, bitterly sweet, and just plain bruisingly bitter body of caustic new work.

Long-time resident of San Francisco's Mission, ground zero of the underground comics scene, Mavrides is member of the ZAP Comix collective, as well as a founding associate of the Church of the SubGenius, a rogue psychotronic religious cult, which he still serves as official apostate. His many collaborators have included Gilbert Shelton, Robert Crumb, film directors Alex Cox and Ron Mann, Survival Research Laboratories and The Residents, and he successfully fought a high-profile taxation and free speech case on behalf of cartoonists and comic book readers against the State of California.

In this new series, a departure from the highly crafted work he's known for, Mavrides has gone conceptual with deceptively simple gestures that still manage to retain the subversive wit that permeates his best-known work. Sticking with basic colors, he paints short phrases in a stark industrial font on top of hapless paintings whose provenance includes dumpsters and thrift stores. Many are commercial paintings from China and Mexico; others are more personal efforts. Unlike a traditional photo and caption, Mavrides' text dominates the image, producing a dissonance that results in sharp gastrointestinal groans, incandescent giggling, or a deep sense of outrage. The title canvas, for instance, a happy paint-by-numbers scene of a mill is blocked out with the phrase Artwork Makes You Free, echoing the ghastly text above Nazi death camp gates.

You can see where this is going and it's not to a cuddly place. Mavrides is from that last generation of cold war babies who had to fight for their right to party so the rest of us could, well, party. Self-taught and street smart, he's still suspicious of the government, and after 30 years of comic book success he remains totally outside the glamorized, monetized world of MFAs and art fairs. He's not afraid to poke fun at it either. These paintings, which begin with the found images, are a snarky retort to the unexamined art world phrase, text-based. And the lack of consent by the found painters adds a discomforting new chapter to the happy story of remix culture and appropriation art, tangentially referenced by Mavrides' painting Everyday Rape.

Having trolled for years in garbage cans and thrift shops for the post war-without-end religious icons, alien dolls and space-age weaponry that he sometimes alters into sculpture, it was only natural that Mavrides would find a way to repurpose actual "fine art." Unlike Jim Shaw, who collects found paintings for their outsider charms, Mavrides can't resist the urge to have the final say, ambiguously dealt with in the painting, Paint has No Power.

Even though Mavrides has been combining words and pictures for years, with this series he elbows into a field with a high bar for success that almost no one reaches. Grandiose, overblown, self-important, simple-minded and obvious are the words that come to mind for most text paintings. There are some important exceptions like the work of Christopher Wool, whose black and white paintings marry the heroic questing of abstraction with the dry negation of pop art; and that of Ed Ruscha, whose pictures developed from looking at billboards through a car windshield, and deeply channel American modernity. However, it is Wayne White, the Los Angeles artist who paints candy colored word sculptures on vintage prints, whose work Mavrides most closely touches. But where White, who limits his source material to mass-production lithography, is anarchic, poetic and whimsical, Mavrides is more like a soap box preacheror a conmandoing his ultra terse, highly critical graffiti on someone else's personal land.

Artwork Makes You Free
Jesus Fucking Christ
Every Day Rape
Paint Has No Power
This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things
Murder Solves Every Problem
22.5 x 18.5 in.  
Genre Binds Desire
37 x 28 in.  
Murder Solves Every Problem
22.5 x 18.5 in.  
Cunt Cock Piss Shit
21 x 17 in.  
Psychedelic Hallucination
28.5 x 52 in.  
Hecho En Mexico
19 x 23 in.  
Machine Age
29.5 x 41.5 in.  
Leave Me Alone
27.5 x 31.5 in.  
You Will Never Die
19 x 17 in.  
10.5 x 12.5 in.  
Science Fiction
31 x 43 in.  
Year Zero
14.5 x 16.5 in.  
Mort Sale
14 x 16 in.  
Why Don't You Ever Paint Anything Nice?
32 x 43 in.  
Installation #1
Installation #3
Installation #4
Installation #5