ICONS, the exhilarating latest series from internationally acclaimed Australian Pop painter Johnny Romeo, is a playfully irreverent exploration of youthful nostalgia, kitsch and pop culture. Featuring a list of beloved childhood icons curated by art director Casey Gleghorn of CG Projects, Romeo has returned with some of the most bombastic and gloriously Pop paintings of his career.
With his penchant for electrifying Technicolour arrangements, Neo-Expressionist urgency and larger than life line-work, Johnny Romeo has crafted a thrilling series of works that examines our relationship with childhood symbols, and the way in which innocence is commodified through the Pop culture machine.
Like the most forward thinking of pop tunes, the immediacy and accessibility of Romeo’s works belies the rich cornucopia of influences and ideas that simmer below the surface. An avid devotee of pop culture, ICONS sees Johnny Romeo as the consummate post-modern sampler, gleefully combing through the canon of American pop culture to create paintings that eclectically reconfigure elements of Americana, hip-hop, rock’n’roll, cartoons and advertising.
ICONS sees Johnny Romeo at his most garish and boisterous. Lively and hyper-saturated, Romeo’s colourful take on classic icons such as Mickey Mouse and Roger Rabbit drips with an irresistible humour that mirrors the glorious kitsch of Jeff Koons. Romeo’s cleverly Absurdist amalgamation of cartoon imagery, product placement and pithy text references transforms his canvases into hilarious mock advertisements that look at the intersection between nostalgia, schlock culture and rampant commercialisation.
Painted with slick, commanding lines and confectionary-sweet hues, Johnny Romeo’s appropriation of classic cartoon characters captures the saccharine joy of youthful whimsy while remaining refreshingly contemporary. In doing so, Romeo pays homage to his influences, such as Ronnie Cutrone, Kenny Scharf and Keith Haring. Conjuring the spirit of Cutrone’s recontextualised comic book heroes, Icons’s appropriation of beloved cartoon characters and products challenges our understanding of originality and authorship, and blurs the line between fine art and lowbrow culture. The barely-contained exuberance of Johnny Romeo’s Kool Aid Man, with its ecstatic ‘Oh Yeah!’ emblazoned across the canvas, evokes Richard Prince and the giddy joys of crass commercialism.
With his bold, unwavering lines, sumptuous mastery of colour, and potent use traditional scroll, anchor and rose motifs, Johnny Romeo’s latest series sees him fully embrace the influence of vintage Sailor Jerry tattoos. The rich references to tattoo iconography imbue his childhood symbols with a righteous rock’n’roll edge. The allusion to tattoo culture enables Romeo to explore the notion of permanence, and question how classic icons of yesteryear endure under a constantly shifting cultural climate.
Influenced by the urban grittiness and rhythmic urgency of hip-hop, ICONS bristles with an irrepressible energy and a ferociously fun flow. Echoing the punchy hooks of street poets spitting hardened rhymes, Romeo has created an exhilarating and humorously jarring juxtaposition between the street-wise braggadocio of hip-hop and the wholesomeness of cartoon icons. The works are littered with incisive, iconic hip-hop references, from Heavy D. & The Boyz’ ‘Funky But Chunky’ burly mash-up with Popeye the Sailor Man, to Romeo’s sauntering fusion of Betty Boop and the Notorious BIG’s ‘Nasty Girl’.
This is exemplified in ‘Sweet Beet’, where Romeo cheekily subverts the squeaky clean innocence of Mickey Mouse with the spirited gangsta wordplay of ‘got to keep your swagger’. Tongue firmly in cheek, Romeo re-envisions Mickey Mouse as a Technicolour Kanye West, a wise-cracking MC trying to remain relevant and ‘swag’ in the ever changing tides of pop culture. The darker, more turgid blues of the work reflect a tacit recognition that in today’s world, the childhood heroes of the past are no longer heroes.
ICONS is a triumphantly exuberant series that sees Johnny Romeo at the top of his game. Masterfully teetering the line between hip-hop swagger, urban edginess and saccharine kitsch, the works offer an invigorating and gleefully rambunctious re-envisioning of childhood icons.
With Johnny Romeo in attendance, ICONS opens at 6-9pm on Friday 3rd October at CG PROJECTS, 140 West Fourth St, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, 17701, USA. The exhibition will run until November 1st.
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September 20, 2014