David Stanley Aponte at the Hex Factory
“Magische Werke” September 2 through October 31, 2011
Probably the most versatile and enigmatic artist to pass through the exit doors of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts of Philadelphia in recent years is named David Stanley Aponte. His work now fills the walls of the “Hex Factory” a gallery for evolutionary Germanic Tribal Art in East Kensington, Philadelphia. The show entitled “Magische Werke” caps an extraordinary season for Aponte which has seen his work in a half a dozen curated group shows throughout the City of Brotherly Love. This show however is all his own. His work references American historical masterpieces and other well known museum paintings for his own devious purposes. Osvaldo Romberg, the well known international artist and Aponte's mentor in and out of PAFA appears to be a likely influence in these layerings of historical referencing.
Herr Aponte is equally at home in the realm of history as he is in fine art. A discussion about his work with him frequently turns into a lecture about some obscure but fascinating moment in history, usually eighteenth century European warfare.
Add to this mix occasional Pop Art references as in his “Smokin' in Penn Treaty Park: Indians 1, Phillies 2 (Lenape visit the Philadelphia zoo with the local Hicks)” which features, “Peaceable Kingdom in black and white and a pack of American Spirit cigarettes with the Cleveland Indian baseball team logo instead of the PC cigarette pack version in bright blue, red and yellow.
As one can see the titles playfully guide the viewer as to the intent of the piece. His “Capitalism, Schizophrenia & Little Green Men (In Golden Shower we trust till it trinkles down the trousers of the Republic for which it stands...)” He uses a black and white version of Gilbert Stuart's classic portrait of George Washington. The large B&W canvas with very few details also contains a small very colorful area, playfully detailed, a pattern that will be seen over and over again in the show. This lower left hand corner of the canvas contains an original articulation of a leprechaun in bright green, gleefully playing with gold coins in a pot of gold, his face is superimposed with the dollar bill's Masonic equilateral triangle with an all seeing eye. Aponte irrelevantly but subtly implies with a very golden wash of paint that this color may have dual meanings here.
Another obscure moment from American History is seen in the double portraits of the Frick the right hand man of industrialist, Carnegie and his would be anarchist assassin, Alexander Berkman. Again the title is just abit ironic, “Apparently three shots was not enough.....(First Class: Frick; Coach: Berkman)” This one is particularly well painted with delicate monochromatic acrylic paint washes onto ungessoed canvas. Frick's and Berkman's heads side by side each occupy their own square, one emerges from an almost black background the other from the off white of the cotton duck.
Aponte's, “L'Origine du Monde in colors” references the female torso of Courbet six times in colors reminiscent of I phone designer colors in a Warhol 'Campbell soup can' like configuration.
His “Half a bottle of Absinthe & a conversation with Van Gogh” makes use of a reproduction of a very well known Van Gogh self portrait tinged absinthe green to which Aponte has painted orange horizontal stripes alternately across. This orange and green combination of colors is again evident in “Rape/Flag/Rubens” which juxtaposes a Rubens reproduction of the “Rape of the Sabine Women” detail with an American flag panel which instead of being red, white and blue, is orange, green, and black.
Aponte's historical referencing includes motion picture classics, his “Screams of Potemkin III” is a gigantic blowup of a single frame from Eisenstein's Black and White classic to which David has added a broad panel of bright red at the bottom. Black, white, and red is another favorite color combination as in his largest canvas in this show, “We grind our own chocolate, Bunker Hill Stripped Bare of her Bachelors, Even in Battle” The title speaks for itself, an epic battle scene from American history in black and white by Trumbull, superimposed from above, the Duchamp's large glass in bright red.
Last but not least, his, “The Officer of the Imperial Guard, Part II” depicts a very elegantly uniformed captain of the Napoleonic Imperial Guard with sabre drawn on a rearing mount. He is absolutely aghast to see 'Mario' of the 'Super Mario Brothers' pass unabashedly through this moment in history just below him. Gericault would not be pleased.
So there you have it, details from American and European history made interesting with humorous and bizarre overlays and combinations. References within references with a helpful title. If you are going to combine history, culture and literature as they do now in public school in order to clear the schedule for more 'important' subjects maybe they should try David Stanley Aponte's approach. The kids might actually learn something!
I know I have.
Hunter Yoder, 10/25/2011