October 12 - November 16, 2013
Opening Reception: Saturday, October 12, 6-8pm
Derek Eller Gallery is please to present a solo exhibition of drawings and paintings by Chicago artist Karl
Wirsum. This will be his first New York show of recent work in over 25 years.
Wirsum first came to prominence in the mid-1960s as a founding member of the Hairy Who. His paintings
and drawings combine psychologically heated and mordantly humorous imagery influenced by comic
books, popular icons, Chicago blues, Japanese prints, and Mesoamerican pottery. His singular style has
influenced generations of artists, and he continues to innovate today.
For Wirsum, drawing is as important as painting. The drawings, in fact, germinate the whole of his work.
Through repeated drafts, sometimes spaced over the course of several years, he perfects the lines and
colors of compositions before deciding to begin a painting. His meticulously constructed figurative works
forgo painterliness in favor of precise layers of acrylic. The flatness of the surfaces teamed with the
vibrant color gives the work a feverish, pulsating quality, and activates the abstract underpinnings of his
figurative work. He writes, “The flat color seems to clarify and accentuate the shapes and forms in a more
abstract way, independent of what the shapes represent.”
The paintings’ cryptic content and ambivalent atmosphere oscillates between ominous and playful. Taffy
Pull Tilt-a-Whirl, for example features two figures, one of which appears to be stripping the flesh off of the
other. In Eye Adjustment, a skeletal arm holding a knife reaches from outside the frame to ‘adjust the eye’
of an unsavory green character. Wirsum writes that, “Like Seurat’s frozen-moment depiction of Sunday
afternoon in the park, I select out from a particular arena of narrative action, leaving the viewer free to
conjure up what may have come before...[and] the future unresolved, with no definitive “The End.””
Wirsum’s painted wood frames add to the narrative, they act as barriers between the outer world and his
inner world. Wirsum communicates inner worlds through enigmatic characters and a visual language that
is as captivating as it is hermetic. To experience the drawings and paintings of Karl Wirsum, is to enter
into a world surfeit with humor, strangeness, mystery, and joy.
Karl Wirsum was born in Chicago in 1939 where he continues to live and work. His work was recently
featured in Sinister Pop at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Chicago Imagists at Madison
Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison; Made in Chicago: The Koffler Collection at the Smithsonian
American Art Museum, Washington, D. C.; Chicago Imagists: 1966-1973 at Thomas Dane Gallery,
London; Seeing is a Kind of Thinking: A Jim Nutt Companion at Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago;
and Looking Back: The Fifth White Columns Annual, organized by Bob Nickas at White Columns, New
York. This is Wirsum’s second solo exhibition at Derek Eller Gallery.
* Book Signing Event: Saturday, October 12, 5-6pm. The gallery will host a book signing party to
celebrate the release of the 64 page catalogue accompanying the exhibition. It includes contributions by
Robert Cozzolino, Carter E. Foster, KAWS, Jeff Koons, Gary Panter, Erik Parker, Mark Pascale, Peter
Saul, Robert Storr, and Chris Ware.
Derek Eller Gallery is located at 615 West 27th Street, between 11th and 12th Avenues. Gallery hours are
Tuesday - Saturday from 11am - 6pm. For further information or visuals, please contact the gallery at
212.206.6411 or visit www.derekeller.com