David Leggett, "I Feel Threatened", 2016
Several streams of American visual culture flow together in David Leggett’s recent work. As with abstract painting, careful attention has been given to how color, line, and texture interact on a flat surface. Subtlety, however, takes a back seat to attention grabbing sentiment, just as in mass marketed toys. The artist’s own collection of Walmart tchotchkes accompanies the exhibit, as does a pointy nosed portrait by Jim Nutt. Leggett has professed admiration for Chicago’s cartoonish provocateurs from the sixties. He also admires the hard hitting racial agitprop of Kara Walker. Her nightmarish drawing, “the N Word”, also accompanies his exhibit.
Mostly, Leggett’s art recalls topical stand-up comedy, like that of Richard Pryor, one of whose album covers is also on display. Each piece is a joke – not the kind that makes you laugh out loud, but the kind that rattles around in the brain until it draws an inner smile of recognition – or not. It makes sense to accompany text like “All lives Matter” with the image of a dopey white kid standing beside a smiling purple gum drop. But why accompany “HELLO HATER” with an image of Elvis Presley? Who is the hater? Elvis, or those who need no evidence to accuse a Southern white rock-n-roller of racism?
Despite the themes of social justice, Leggett is mostly looking inward, showing us how those themes flicker on his screen of self awareness . A disembodied self-portrait floats throughout the exhibition, from one painting to another. Sometimes a Polaroid selfie, usually it’s a strongly drawn cartoon of himself as a strong but gentle, wise but innocent, man-child.
Consistent with challenging hierarchies of taste and power, the artist does not appear to have set standards for what he will show. One piece, “WASH YA ASS”, is more appropriate for a grade school washroom than an art gallery. Other pieces should to be considered for any group show of strong young painters who explore coming of age in America. Overall, the show is more about the person than his painting. He’s an enjoyable person to meet.