Blake Boyd once asked me to sit for a portrait wearing Mickey Mouse ears. I told him it wasn't really my kind of thing, and he didn't seem surprised. While Mickey Mouse is a great icon of American pop culture, those ears really had more to do with the Mickey Mouse Club which, even as a small child, I found sort of creepy. His invitation seemed odd coming from a middle-aged man (he turns 37 this year), although his own photo in Mickey Mouse ears still adorns his bio page on the Arthur Roger Gallery Web site.
As a gesture, it revealed Boyd's penchant for enlisting the local art community in his projects, as well as illustrating why some have trouble taking him seriously -- a shame since his two shows occupying both of Arthur Roger's spacious galleries reflect a huge investment of time, labor and resources on his part. The subjects are his usual mix of pop icons ranging from Snow White and Sleeping Beauty to Playboy Bunnies, Darth Vader and the rock band KISS. No homoerotic or S & M stuff turns up this time although there are hints of bestiality, and lines of cocaine appear on a Snow White souvenir tray. His production values are terrific, with gorgeously finished and strikingly executed images in his usual enamels, blood and gold leaf on clay. But what's it all about, really?
A couple of other occurrences were also telling. In years past, the advent of a new show was inevitably accompanied by a certain buzz to the effect that "... Blake Boyd is about to make it really big in New York." That always piqued my curiosity, but then I'd see the work and think: Don't hold your breath. Sure, the neo-pop subject matter might seem to match New York's Warholian pop media fixation, but, as a former New Yorker employed by the Museum of Modern Art, I thought the tone was off. Pop Art has always been a cool commentary on mass media, but Boyd frames his work in the most personal of terms. By closely identifying adolescent or sentimental imagery with his own persona, he risks coming across as a perpetual adolescent, which in New York might brand him as a "nebbish" or not a real "mensch." Latter day New York pop is epitomized by tough-minded artists like Richard Prince, whose work is rooted in cool theoretical concerns.
After many years of being "about to make it big in New York" but not having too much to show for it, in May of 2005 Boyd took out an ad in Art in America pleading with gallery mogul Matthew Marks to represent him. Art blogger Kriston Capps was appalled: "... a young artist named Blake Boyd bought a two-page ad spread in Art in America that all but begs Marks to feature his work. Boyd's antics and art (lots of Pop superheroes, Darth Vader, boobs) peg him at just shy of 16 years old. And the letter -- from its content to its high school literary magazine grade of design and layout -- is mortifying."
That's way harsh, but it shows how Boyd's approach can confuse people. They don't realize that, creepy Mickey Mouse ears aside, he's a nice guy, a quiet and obviously dedicated artist from Slidell who lives to make work that is technically quite impressive. Even so, how do you make a case for combinations of images that, if not for their polish and monumental scale, might have come from some confused kid's MySpace page? Sure, they look gorgeous, but some spoilsports will still want to know what ideas they represent in the context of American art --Êespecially in theory-obsessed New York. And while Boyd is appreciated by many of us here in a city that loves our local characters, his stuff is too expensive to rely on us alone. My advice? Back off New York for now, Blake, and exhibit in glib, trendy places like Miami or L.A. where image is everything and most folks won't care if anyone thinks your stuff suggests a menagerie of adolescent fantasies. Maybe they'll be bowled over by the dramatic flair and fanatical craftsmanship, instead.
- Reflections on the surfaces of Blake Boyd's large painting, Destroyer, convey his penchant for adolescent content and highly polished production values.