A manic excitement came from Hellbent as he opened the door to his studio, his first visit in nearly two weeks. Strands of tape wafted in the breeze created as the artist circled the narrow room. The lace-patterned strips dangle, waiting for their newly reimagined purpose, as a part of the Mix Tape series. Leftover from masking his other series, cleverly titled Demos, this formerly discarded tool becomes repurposed. These two bodies of work combine to form Mighty Tanaka’s upcoming exhibition, Even Romantics Love Violence, opening tonight from 6pm – 9pm.
Hellbent continues tracing his way around the periphery of his space, as if following a track, and sharing his inspiration along the path. In the same breath, I am told about David Wojnarowicz stenciling through the 80’s before being launched into a discussion about graffuturism and post-graffiti art. With an education in art history, Hellbent rattles off influences with the intensity of someone who devours the visual culture in which they are surrounded. This excitement for art animates the room, bringing dimensionality to the flat plains in his panels.
The exuberance that Hellbent exhibits in his studio weaves itself though the neons and lace that connote his style. Once the backdrop for characters, his patterns have come to the foreground in the past year, most notably in the artist’s largest wall to date, a collaboration with See One in Bushwick. Here, the delicate details that were once behind bold graphics, such as Freud’s jawbone, now stand alone adjacent to See One’s shards, which dance lightly across the surface. Even Romantics Love Violence marks an several important transitions in Hellbent’s evolution; while the artist’s geometric interpretation has appeared in the public sphere in multiple locations, Mighty Tanaka is the first to give this work a solo exhibition.
The second shift in the artist’s body of work comes through the repurposing of masking tape, where patterns emerge from the overspray found used to mask his lace stencils. Using liquid glass, board, and tape, the Mix Tape series becomes a tongue-in-cheek poke at these materials. Just as the artist consumes the visual history with which he is surrounded, each part of his process has been utilized for these series. Through his varied means of creation, the two play off of one another as the light pieces of tape become encased between layers of board and glass. In contrast, the Demos sufrace remain untouched, thus retaining the delicate texture of lace.
The energy comes to a close with the studio visit as the florescent layers of tape, glass, and wood are stacked together. The pieces are placed on a shelf and the light is turned off.
For many artists, their work is a manifestation of themselves, be it politically engaging, thoughtful, or comedic. In the case of Hellbent, the care taken to thoughtfully plan out the arrangement of lace combined with the energy of neon spray paint speaks to these sensibilities.
Even Romantics Love Violence opens Friday, May 10th, from 6pm – 9pm at Mighty Tanaka (111 Front Street, Brooklyn, NY).
Photos by Rhiannon Platt