No Go Michelangelo (2006)
Acrylic on Wood
University Club of Chicago
Called the master impster of Chicago Imagism, Karl Wirsum (School of the Art Institute of Chicago) has been entertaining and entreating audiences since the 1960s when he (as part of the Hairy Who group) developed a style that combines a graphic sensibility–vivid, flat colors, simplified cartoon-like figures–with a sense of humor evident in the works themselves and also in titles that second guess and play with words.
Wirsum’s imaginary characters are defined by the bizarre scenes in which they exist. He is also known for updating iconic images using his signature comic book derived style, in a shaped canvas that pushes the boundary between painting and a sculptural object. Wirsum currently lives in Chicago.
No Go Michelangelo (2006) originated from Wirsum seeing an image of the man with the world’s longest fingernails in the Ripley’s Believe it or Not series of the Sunday newspaper.
Wirsum related that image to Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam and the cult classic film The Night of the Hunter. Those discursive sources evolved into No Go Michelangelo. The work is a relief sculpture of a single figure, mounted on the wall, frontal in orientation.
The figure’s head and arms wrap in towards the center of its body, leading towards its two hands and torso and highlighting the absence of the figure’s lower-body.
The bold, electric colors of the figure, including lime green eyes, orange arms, and a pink head, suggest a playful comic representation. Yet, the rendering of the body and features juxtaposes playful with grotesque. The figure’s head may be hot pink, reminiscent of a play toy, but his uneven yellow teeth, slack opened mouth, and multi-layered nose creates an incongruous relationship between color and form.
The figure’s muscular right arm is peppered with silhouettes of ants, yet his gaze is focused on his abnormal and misshapen hands. The right hand has six fingers and what could be three teeth outlined in the space between the index finger and thumb. Positioned on the middle finger of the left hand is a small pink device that almost touches the tip of the right hand’s index finger.
In this gesture, Wirsum references Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. Except that instead of reaching out to God, Wirsum’s figure is trying to reach and touch himself with an intermediary object in- between, adding a mocking humor to the religious artwork.
The less muscular left arm is covered in small bird silhouettes and curves out from the body and back around into the torso region. This creates an unnatural C shape that directs focus towards the central act of the two hands attempting to touch.
The quality of the paint and clarity of each line makes the object appear as if it were machine made, or mechanically reproduced, as there is no evident mark of Wirsum’s hand across the smooth surface. No Go Michelangelo is a witty, culturally layered, relief work fused with Wirsum’s highly skilled formal aesthetic.