With Future Tenant known for freewheeling experimentalism, the exhibition Broken Slogan defies expectations with its professionalism and polish. The three artists here are linked by a loose but operational theme of words and images mined from persuasion-minded media and marketing, fragmented to the point of ambiguity, and repurposed as lyrical artworks.
Pittsburgh-based Jonathan Chamberlain, guest curator as well as exhibiting artist, distills logos and images into flat areas of color, as in old-fashioned package design and signage. In "Your Life Is an Accident," an appropriated image of Roman Polanski and then-spouse Sharon Tate, the best-known of Charles Manson's victims, revisits visual culture's evolving language while paying homage to retro style — think long sideburns. The highly charged subject, not noted in the painting's title, is decontextualized, settling into the cool attitude of many pop songs. (Chamberlain performs with the band Delicious Pastries.)
Arthur Mohagen III, a Milwaukee-based artist with an apparent airplane fixation, has a skillful touch with pencil and paint and a fine sense of composition. Using mostly found images as a starting point and unobtrusively cropping, combining and altering them to suit himself, Mohagen adds ponderous words over the images. Phrases such as "Boy, Tight security" have an in-joke feel that contrasts with the readily comprehended scenes of airplanes taxiing and taking off. I don't see where the beautifully rendered, near-photorealistic imagery benefits from phrases that are both obscure and obscuring, but they don't ruin it for me, either.
The oils-on-canvas by John Phillip Abbott, currently residing in Albuquerque, are about as loose as can be without looking unfinished. Words and phrases are embedded in washes of color that dissolve into the illegible script of faded graffiti. The works are painted in a varied way that, along with their small size, flaunts their minor-ness, looking like fragments cut from larger works. One painting appears to include the word "love" and another "because I was," but there is little impetus to decipher or make associations. Verve and risk-taking are not only Abbott's predominant artistic strategy, but also the essence of what these works convey.
For these artists, sourcing, alteration and recoding are a way of asserting oneself while navigating the continually accumulating stock of words and images flooding our culture. For Chamberlain, Mohagen and Abbott, modifying is a more attractive approach than starting from scratch.