Pipe Dreams marks not only Sheryo and the Yok’s first exhibition together in the United States, but also a departure from what viewers have come to expect from the duo. As of late, the artists have been defined by their use of a red, black, and white palette to portray unique vision of reality. However, don’t be concerned that these changes mean that the work is missing the cartoonish, pop imagery seen in past pieces. The pizza, drugs, and other wild things are still present, just reimagined.
During their travels to through South East Asia, from Sheryo’s native Singapore to Vietnam, the artists began to infuse their work with the surrounding culture. Now, geishas and dragons have become central characters alongside smoking pizzas and skateboards. While visiting Vietnam, the artists took advantage of the opportunity to begin painting pottery, starting with vases and later expanding in the States to plates. Initially, the work appears a light air blue, mimicking the smoke emanating from elongated cigarette holders. After three coats, the plates begin to don the cobalt blue associated with Eastern ceramics.
Beyond these surface appearances, this influence extends to deeper meanings, including numerology. During the studio visit, patterns of 4 (4, 8, 12) began to emerge within the bodies of work, however intentional or not. Sheryo was quick to speak about the auspicious meanings of the numbers 4 and 8 in Chinese, representing wealth and death respectively. Other coded beliefs trace their way through the different media in the exhibition, including the Illuminati. The all-seeing-eye positioned atop a pyramid has become a widely recognized symbol for the alleged secret society. Through these allegorical codes, an air of mysticism is hidden within their playful cartoons.
Prior to Pipe Dreams, the Yok and Sheryo primarily created work with a variety of media on paper: colored pencil, pen, and gouache, for example. Departing from the expected medium, the duo combines their shared love of aerosol with detail-oriented brushwork as the duo experiment with these techniques on paper and canvas. In these series, the artists’ backgrounds in graphic design are apparent as crisp lines shape their shared imagery. Working in tandem, the creatures that come to life on these pages represent equal parts the Yok and Sheryo. Unless one closely follows each of their styles, it becomes difficult to separate where one ends and the other begins.
As with dissecting the meaning behind the imagery, it is only when the stylistic variances are picked apart that the viewer can begin to notice slight discrepancies in the way certain aspects are rendered. These differences are most apparent in the eyes, which are after all the windows to the soul. Always sleepy, the Yok’s eyes can be defined by their droopy eyelids and dozy eyes, encircled by tired lines. In contrast, Sheryo is wide awake; her figures are seen with tight, bug-like eyes, which are so alert that no eyelids can be seen. It is this aspect in particular where Sheryo’s American cartoon influences take hold. On several occasions, she has mentioned her affinity for Cow & Chicken, a deranged cartoon that was somehow on air during the late 90’s and involved a cast of character including, a hairy devil and an egomaniacal chicken.
The culmination of their stylistic influences, hidden meanings, and new artistic direction are demonstrated in the centerpiece to the exhibition, Lumpy Space Dragon. Referencing another Cartoon Network show with an avid cult following, Adventure Time has pervaded not only pop culture, but now the art world as well. Comprised of an ensemble cast, the show’s characters include Jake, Marceline the Vampire Queen, and Lumpy Space Princess, a husky-voiced, purple, cloud-like character.
Just as the way Lumpy Space Princess, or LSP for short, floats effortlessly throughout the fictitious space of Adventure Time, the sculpture hurdles itself on a skateboard, legs in the air, through the center of Krause Gallery. The livelihood seen in the dragon is as a direct result of master sculptor Alvaro Luna. Originally conceived to be approximately two feet in length, the character doubled in size during its creation. Based on a sketch given to the sculptor by Sheryo and the Yok, over the course of a week of sleepless nights, Luna brought Lumpy Space Dragon to fruition. Layers of rods, foam, polymer clay, and other materials went into creating a work that could both convey the swirling movement of their illustrations while also remaining stable.
Especially with this piece, as it marks a visually astounding departure from previous mediums, it is easy to become caught in the spectacle. As with other pieces in Pipe Dreams, the artists place coded notes to each other and of their travels. But because of the dimensionality, the viewer must spend time examining the detailed codes placed at various angles. Here, real life tattoos become as a part of the dragon’s skin as it is their own. Pipe dreams and spray paint encircle the skateboarder’s mind, representing the culmination of several months of labor come to completion for Sheryo and the Yok.
Pipe Dreams will have a public opening May 16th from 7pm-9pm at Krause Gallery (149 Orchard Street, New York, NY) and runs through June 16th.
Photos by Rhiannon Platt