Ashkahn Shahparnia, (pronounced ASH-CON SHAW-PAR-NEEYA) is a Los Angeles based graphic design artist whose work is colorful, whimsical, funny, and immensely clever. His designs, which seem to come from a world that is forever changing from spring to summer and back again, transition easily from one product to the next. Graphics for tote bags, t-shirts and pillows, album cover art, patterns for wall paper, some killer custom typefaces and much more, all fit snuggly into his portfolio (along with just about every color imaginable). Capturing the age-old and elusive ‘show-not-tell’ mantra of artists everywhere, Shahparnia’s fonts and graphics truly have personalities of their own. What is perhaps the most exciting is Shahparnia’s use of unexpected items in his designs and graphics, such as the elements of a dismantled avocado to create a minimalist, geometric pattern. Or the graphic representation of the evolution of bikini wax styles from the 1960s to 2000s, matter-of-factly printed on the side of a tote bag. Which makes sense when you look at the extensive list of his inspirations on his website, crediting everything from Lil’ Wayne to Carl Andre to an adorable baby polar bear. While much of Shahparnia’s work is very tongue ‘n cheek, he demonstrates a true understanding of how graphic design can completely dictate the emotional value of an image. Celebrating all styles, be they kitsch, cute or cool, the designs all have one thing in common: they’re great to look at and you’ll probably have a hard time not smiling.
Langdon Graves is all about the mystery of deception and illumination. Her drawings utilize two contradicting devices, photo-realistic rendering and surrealist narrative, all to create trompe l’oeil images that astound and leave you wanting more. Each drawing has elements that are immediately recognizable, but the second you think you know what is going on, you realize something is amiss. Some drawings are easier to decode, while others have a ‘wait a minute…’ quality that would make M.C. Escher proud. Unlike Escher, Graves saturates her drawings with a folk-like narrative that evokes the feeling that we should be learning some kind of lesson. As if we are seeing just a glimpse of a much larger, more complex story, and are hungry for more.
There is a delicate sense of instability that disrupts the calm in each drawing. Whether it’s Grave’s beautifully subtle use of color, or the quiet violence implied in many of the images, we are not looking into a world of sunshine, lollipops and rainbows. Instead, Graves creates a world where a dark cloud hangs over each perfectly coiffed head. The combination of innately feminine symbols with clandestine actions produces a tension that lures you in like a moth to a flame. Yet, like any successful illusionist, Graves is careful to not reveal too much, leaving us in a state of expectation similar to the feeling of anticipation when opening a present. You know something special is inside but you only have a few clues to guess what it is.
Micah Ganske’s paintings will give you a headache….in a good way. The unbelievable amount of detail that goes into his often large-scale paintings is absolutely a testament to his passion and dedication to the subjects he addresses. Detail doesn’t even seem to describe the amount of disciplined attention that goes into each piece. In his paintings, which can measure up to 120” x 150”, Ganske will draw in every window on every building and every car. In another painting, a giant tripod supporting a tiny digital camera in the foreground has such smooth gradation on the metal, you know exactly how it would feel if you could reach into the image. The result is something that demands attention.
Once you get over the amazement of how much visual information he provides the viewer, (a process that takes a fair amount of time) the signification of the layered symbolism begins to appear. Ganske explains that he wants “the world that [his] work exists in to be a streamlined synthesis of all visual stimulation [he] has ever taken in; nothing sacred, all sources brought down to the same level.” Once all on the same playing field, Ganske imprints his opinions about the way people interact with the natural world and the technological world. Most recently, Ganske is currently pursing a body of work titled, Tomorrow Land, which combines both a disappointment in the broken promises of mid-century technology, and a hopefulness borne from knowing that certain individuals are still devoted to exploring new frontiers and changing the way we think about the world.
The work of Ryan De La Hoz exists in a very particular world, a world comprised of hauntingly nostalgic paper cut outs and drawings that look like a spooky cartoon reduced to the absolute minimum of expression. Delicate flowers, leaves and skeleton gloves contrast with gaping holes filled with dizzying Op-Art to create a landscape that seems like Tim Burton got together with Henri Matisse to make their own paradise. The works are so simplified they leave it up to viewers to project their own narrative on the scene. We each have our own idea of where each ladder leads, and what is hiding behind those geodes and mounds of slime. The compositions are mysteriously devoid of humans, yet laced with the shadows of human characters. The gloves of skeleton costumes pepper many of his works, as if to signify not only death, but a human representation of death. Another common symbol used by De La Hoz is the ladder, one loaded with symbolism. Ladders leaning into a spiraling abyss, or simply leading to no where, bring to mind the question of where are we going and where have we been. While De La Hoz does have the tendency to appear Halloween-ish, with his frequent use of pointed witches’ hats, cob webs, skeletons and blobby mounds with gaping mouths, the work transcends the threat of kitsch in its minimalism and precision. We are drawn to wonder about the age old truths, about death and what is left behind, and about what is hidden and what is revealed.