“The hero is dead. TJ knocked him down.” Said the owner of RO2 Gallery – Jordan Roth, about the current exhibition “Animal Instinct” by TJ Griffin. He pointed to one of the drawings from the previous exhibition “Remove Your Mask.” It has a red dot, so it is gone.
If there were a funeral march for the hero, that would be accompanied by Gustav Mahler’s Titan symphony. In that bizarre funeral march transformed from a children song, all characters and animals from the woods come out for the death of titan, but not always in sorrow. And those creatures and characters are finely captured on the wall.
In his new oeuvre, TJ retains the whimsical and fantasy setting, while downplaying the figurative narration. The shift from narration to design is evident in his choice of symmetry and patterns. That propensity of becoming in previous works has been caressed into nebulous beings.
The main characters, as if traveled back through time machine from the hero series (using Jordan’s words), possess a weird combination of childish innocence and adolescent diffidence. We see them in the front view, and feel their self-consciousness.
Yet the ambiguity intrigues the viewer into seeking who they are. Not only are they often symbiotic, but also they are behind masks. What’s presented is not portraiture, but the mindset that seems to both shun away and seek to reach the inquisitive viewers – all through those big plastic eyes. If the plasticity and exaggeration in facial features remind viewers of Takashi Murakami, it is only because both artists have found their source of creativity in cartoons and toys. While Murakami has further flattened imageries, TJ’s drawings cast an old-world charm. He opts for pastel colors of harmonious tones, keeps intricate mask designs that look more like decorate terra cotta tiles from prairie school architecture. Occasionally, he even adds marks that look like foxing and mildew.
The center piece, Bird Ass Bird, is a piece of blown glass sculpture installation. (Dallas glass artist Aaron Tate collaborated with TJ on this unique piece.) It instantly transforms the gallery into a wonderland where fantasy dominates reasoning. Besides a few pieces with an unabashed sexuality, most faces, despite imaginative masks, totems and symbols, look restraint. They serve as a mirror to reflect one’s own. After all, the masks and the wilderness create a mental and physical xanadu where everyone can, for a moment, be whatever and whoever he wants to be. We have all been behind the masks, and through those eyes, we fills our own expressions.
The closing reception will be at Ro2 Gallery on Friday, May 24, 2014.