Positive Mass: Chris Uphues at Linda Warren Projects
It's radiant, really, fucking radiant in that flat-flash, bursting way, the terrible beautiful brilliance of a blank screen or the momentary dawning of a second, subjected sun—wrought by us, meant for us, heat and power of the kind which makes people gods—over a blighted Pacific atoll, radiant and giving off a palpable …vibe, a kind of psychic heat, Heavy Sunshine, buzzing from the apian engine which drives it with the cosmic exigency which only derives from density, an immensely dense little star of positivity, happy imagery—flowers, mountains, clouds, houses, bees, bunnies, books, baseballs, brick facades, bananas, watermelon slices, apples and pineapples and mushrooms, computer monitors, keys, clocks, lampshades, pyramids, the majority made animate, all gaping eyes and content smiles stretching across their faces like cats in a sunbeam—condensing into a heavy star, loosed now and setting in to a dark sea obliterating, by virtue of its weight, all that lays before it, so long as any wavelength still finds its mark among the rods and cones; a washing over of giddy happiness, all of the sudden made manifest—like the soft dolphin clicking which makes background radiation real—by an ecosystem fed by the heavy sunshine, lapping up those vibes, spilling out from the walls and onto the floors, grass, green grass, too-green grass, the putt-putt Eden which will never die and upon which sprout fungi whose life cycles are not derived from the decay of matter, but instead of inhibitions, fears, doubts, angers, hatreds, anxieties, all manner of varieties of the grossly negative which stick, plaque-like, to the brain, and all of which are obliterated—that's the only word, the proper word—by the heavy sunshine of the radiant little dense positivity star, burned and devoured in the light of weaponized joy, the kind which dissolves people into paroxysmal saline puddles of tears and teeth, gratitude etched across each grin by benevolent, indomitable force…– B. David Zarley, Chicago Contributor
It is safe to say that we are in a political climate anyone, save but a very few, can truly enjoy, and even safer to say that few of them would ever make their way to Linda Warren Projects to bask in the Heavy Sunshine of Chris Uphues' solo show. Which is a shame, since the joyous positivity, as relentless, omnipresent, and necessary as sunlight, on display could be little but beneficial to any person who surrenders themselves to it.
And what a simple surrender it is! To embrace Uphues' imagery is to embrace the imagery that you most likely, at one point, loved simply and purely; like Jeff Koons, the Great Missionary, Uphues avails himself to various iterations and echoes of popular culture—Disney, Mr. Men, bubblegum machine plastic bubble trinkets, and the animate environment of Mario Bros. all immediately come to mind—so that his works are as democratic as possible, hewing across a wide swath of the popular visual canon, such that a septuagenarian and a seventeen year old could each see something within his works that brings, up out of the sulci and brumes, a genuine, earned smile (that he does so in a less obvious, but less Massive, way than Koons lends the whole thing a bit more of precious subtlety, or as subtle as masses of goofy-grinned figures are wont to be, anyway, to the whole thing; all of which is to say he is a clawhammer to Koons' wrecking ball).
Such easily approachable imagery—best exemplified in the mushrooms, key, and book sculptures which bring his works into something a shade closer to real life—is important because the works themselves are practically inscrutable at first glance. It is impossible, even without the titles, to think of pieces like Heavy Sunshine, a massive ball of Uphues' happy icons, as anything but a star. Like the celestial bodies, the power of his paintings derives from the sheer density of their composition. The titular piece, which took him seven years to complete, succeeds in blasting the brain because, with its simple, smiling figures and Bic blue coloration, it appears, at first blush, as a doodle, calling to mind the youthful, spontaneous joy of creation; after this initial, atavistic pleasure comes the realization that this is in fact a work of acrylic paints, a composition made with a technical skill and intricacy that belies the simplicity of its subjects, basic elements—the most basic elements in all the universe—coalescing into something whose power is of a completely different magnitude all together. And so it is in The Doorway, ostensibly a rainbow, one finds cascading cataracts of rapture; it is in Sparks, where brilliant lightning bolts flash across the canvas as colors did 80's fashion, that one can find jolts of joy, in the smiles and eyes and colors and shapes and memories.
All of this is deliciously merchandisable—look at the keys, the books, The Sheriff, The Beach Comber, The Soda Jerk, The Ringmaster, The Farmer, The Spaceman, The Wizard, who are puffs of personality, clouds of traits with legs, and fucking tell me people would not buy them, die to buy them, die and desire and burn to buy all of them—which is its most beautiful element. What good is democratic imagery, what use is a light, what purpose is positivity, if it is not shared with as wide an audience as possible?
The heavy sun rises on both the evil and the good, after all.