It is rare that we make time in our busy schedules to contemplate how we interact with our cityscape, not to mention how that cityscape influences us. However, for artist Josh George, that curious, inspiring, and sometimes strained relationship has fueled his newest exhibition of work, Micropolis. This most recent collection of paintings, which opens at Ghostprint Gallery on Thursday, reveals his layered and intricate interpretation of the urban landscape by using vibrant and haunting imagery of urban environments and those who inhabit them. Growing up in Kansas City, living in New York, lecturing in Italy and settling most recently in Richmond, George is no stranger to the diverse spectrum of city living. He recognizes that “each place is rich and beautiful—gritty and limited and frustrating in its own way.” George uses his own varied experiences to explore modern dilemmas encountered in the pursuit of the perfect place.
“Cyclonic Stretch of Glory” 9 x 12, mixed media on wood panel
Living in a country of rampant consumerism, with easy access to immediate satisfaction, and a virtual obsession with social networking, it has become nearly effortless to define ideals based on what is culturally dictated and accessible. But what happens when individual experience transforms that mandated ideal? For George, a dilemma arises; “I guess we all think that we have our ideal life planned in our head, or we are told what the ideal life should be by our culture or friends or family. Then you visit another city or country and those ideals can get turned upside down and it makes you wonder how you should live.” This captivating and modern predicament can, however, become an opportunity to investigate how the urban landscape informs our individual desires, revealing the complexities and often impossibilities of an individual’s utopian environment.
“A Toast Before the Fall,” 12 x 9, mixed media on wood panel
Most people have, at one time or another, painted in their minds the paragon of their own perfect place. Rarely a static image, this place changes with experience as its inhabitants change with time. Whether grounded in the tangible, or escalating to the unachievable, the ideal is forever lusted after, and rarely obtained. As the old adage claims, “the grass is always greener on the other side.” For George, however, it’s a little more complicated than that. “… [E]ach city inspires in me a unique longing to be somewhere else,” he says. “This search for the perfect place seems modern and human to me—many of us might be looking for places that just don’t exist. In short, I feel a sort of restlessness that I try to temper by appreciating all the gritty, gnarly beauty both places offer.”
“Squint City,” 48″ x 36″, mixed media on wood panel
The works collected in Micropolis are a reaction to that sense of restlessness, conveying George’s continued exploration of urban living and the complexities of wanting something that, as he puts it, “maybe just lives in your head.” The realities of city living, though sometimes frustrating, can certainly be managed. For George, the best remedy is to focus on those things that make him happy, things like “Magnolia trees pushing through the sidewalks, bats flying over my head at the lakes, or my backyard.” Concentrating on the “gritty, gnarly beauty” exposes the charm in the details, a concept evoked in George’s paintings as well.
“High Speed Car Chase,” 9 x 12, mixed media on wood panel
What is truly remarkable about George’s work is how the complexities of city living are reflected in the intricacies and depth of the mixed media paintings themselves. By layering scraps of maps, wall paper, old wine labels, and other such materials, he creates a hushed and evocative narrative beneath the rich, vibrant, and more apparent images that the paint brings forth. George’s work integrates elements from the haunting, often dark, city scenes of the Ashcan school with the painting style and perspective of the Impressionist movement, while simultaneously incorporating the techniques of collage artists like Kurt Schwitters.
“Post-Harvest Handling,” 48 x 36, mixed media on wood panel
His inspiration seems to be a progressive one, as layered and developed as his work. It began with a love for building things as a child, and matured through his educational introduction to diverse artists, and, ultimately, united with his own experiences and an imaginative tendency to accumulate 2-D treasures. As George states, “I always loved mixed media; using wet and dry mediums together to see what happens. How I could utilize my drawing ability and my need to construct things is how my current work came about. I’m kind of a collector of patterns, old labels and old maps.” The immense detail and the use of layers in each painting make observing the work up close, and in person, the best way to truly grasp their depth and intensity.
“On Top of This World,” 12 x 9, mixed media on wood panel
Micropolis will open at Ghostprint Gallery, located at 220 W. Broad St., this Thursday, October 3rd, for the artist’s preview reception from 6-8pm. This will be followed by a public opening the next day for First Friday, from 6-9pm. The exhibition will remain on display through November 30th.