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Karl Wirsum

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