In the early days, the artist and NYU Professor Michael St. John couldn’t quite figure out “art.” And while he’s certainly established a working solution—having just completed his eleventh solo show in New York—that query continually compels him. “The question of what can be art, or what is art remains a mystery to this day and is always on my mind,” he says. “There is no answer and that’s a good thing.”
St. John’s exploration has included painting, sculpture, and a kinetic installation, all inspired, he says, by the world “as it is.” His interpretation of the everyday reflects a melding of high and low cultures, producing a frank, yet optimistic view of reality. His most recent show, In the Studio Twenty Eleven at Andrea Rosen, presented a Jasper Johns-inspired series of collages that placed a poem, an image of the cross, and an image of the American flag effortlessly beside a rainbow clown wig and a photo of Courtney Love flipping the bird.
“I try to always state things clearly, and realism is the best tool to commemorate and record time,” he says. “Whatever the subject may be, my optimism is always on the side of the world as a mysterious, surprising and living experience, like art itself.”
In another take, the artist borrowed a former student’s notebook drawing to create the Mascot series featured on GREY AREA, the art and object shop located in SoHo (also a partner of ARTLOG). He first used the bunny character in painting before finally translating it into sculpture. After molding the original figure, St. John used that form to make multiples, fourteen in total, each with a distinct look, ranging from matte white to black with Chanel logo (pictured above).
“I just like that image, the expression is so benevolent/scary, relaxed/aggressive, a punk rabbit. Some images just stick with me, like a coded language that can’t necessarily be explained, ineffable, just understood.”
Addressing brands like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, or Tiffany is far from new for Michael St. John. The artist has played with icons and logos in his work for years, in such pieces as a Philip Guston Klan head, a Takashi Murakami Louis Vuitton bag, the juxtaposition of Kurt Cobain with kittens, and his flattened Tiffany’s box.