Across two galleries, through works made from his surroundings, Aaron Fowler offers a piece of his life.
Expression (n.) — the means by which an artist communicates ideas and emotions. Welcome to the world of visual art, where today we’ll focus on Los Angeles-based Aaron Fowler and his amalgam of blessings.
There is a geography to artist Aaron Fowler’s work. His assemblage pieces move in place, be it by hair weaves waving off pegboard portraits, or groups of people wandering from one end of a scene to another. Many of these works literally move: Fans and tablets are placed within pieces, embedding a sense of motion, while each piece is pulled from his surroundings quite literally. Fowler sources materials from his surroundings, whether they are bottle caps from Los Angeles, California, or stray purses gathered from around Harlem, New York — both cities wherein he is based, along with his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri.
The artist’s latest exhibition, Exceedingly and Abundantly Blessed, illustrates the artist’s geographic tendencies by stretching them across space and time. It is mounted by two L.A. galleries — West Hollywood’s M+B and the Warehouse District’s Ghebaly Gallery — and represents works created throughout 2018 (with two works from 2017). The show arrives a short distance after his inclusion in the 2018 incarnation of Hammer Museum’s Made in L.A., Los Angeles’ biennial of artists who make the city what it is. Exceedingly and Abundantly Blessed is a stepping out: A little graduation of sorts; a show arriving amidst growing buzz surrounding the artist and his work.
Exceedingly and Abundantly Blessed silos Fowler’s work between the portrait-focused and the scenic, all of which reflect on family relationships, blackness, America, and accomplishments great and small. Both M+B and Ghebaly’s showings feature similar vocabularies of materials and subjects, portrayed via massive works that simultaneously expand and contract the artist. There is a resounding sense of reflection, too, that this show is not only a presenting of the personal, but a confirmation where each creation is a means to make this point in the artist’s career more real.
At M+B, two gallery spaces present portraiture of family and friends that travels between painting and sculpture with a reverence and joy for Fowler’s life and loves. The front gallery is covered in red velvet, transforming the room into a jewel box, as E$, a giant Egyptian-inspired bust, hangs from the ceiling, composed of trophies, hair weaves, bottle caps, and more. The bust looks toward a pegboard portrait of the same name, as well as Erin and Mitch, a sprawling scene of two figures (assumed to be friends, caught mid-smiles) carrying bundles. The back gallery tosses viewers within a kaleidoscope of mirrored walls that colorful works bounce off of, like Tayos (a giant medallion that positions various purses to create a figure) and Granny, the smiling face of an older woman in a sun hat (that is composed of sun hats), whom viewers assume is Fowler’s family matriarch.
Traveling to Ghebaly thereafter evokes the feeling that both the viewer and artist have arrived at the space after a long climb up a dusty Californian mountain. The floors are covered with sand and dirt that calms the space by bringing the outside in, while simultaneous offering the feeling that one is sinking and sailing — a dramatic and subtle suggestion of the artist’s mindset. The works in the space are massive, overtaking rooms and enveloping viewers: Empire contrasts the daily life of everyday people with the dream of the world coming down them via a giant leg stomping down, ironically created with black bedazzled velour that literally shouts “LOVE”; It’s A Fucking Movement spins at the center of the gallery’s largest room, depicting the artist’s brother moving away from home, with the building and nature in a chatter with each other, all under the word “MOVEMENT” spelled in bright red LED; and Derion is encased in a pegboard chapel dedicated to the artist’s young cousin who died in a car accident — a portrait of him rendered on a hot tub cover against the lyrics to Puff Daddy’s “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down,” the words “MY PRIDE” placed in mirror on his scalp.
What Fowler accomplishes with Exceedingly and Abundantly Blessed is a proof of life, not only for himself — but also for his family and his story, a simultaneously timeless and new American tale of success in visual art. The two shows come together like a loving pinch from an older aunt: a little squeeze of the skin to remind you that you are real, that you are seen, that you are loved. Solo shows as such are rare, ecstatic celebrations that mark a moment in the geography of an artist’s career. Fowler’s work may cover a few corners of Los Angeles through the end of 2018, but there is the sense that his works will remain mounted to the walls of M+B and Ghebaly for years to come, as sand and dirt from the soles of Fowler’s shoes stay in the gallery — footprints made on the way toward the next big moment of an artist’s career.
Aaron Fowler’s Exceedingly and Abundantly Blessed is on view at M+B through December 22, 2018 and Ghebaly Gallery through December 8, 2018.
Written by Kyle Fitzpatrick
Edited by Jaclyn Siu
Photography by Kyle Fitzpatrick