Pop culture paradoxes explored in Kinetic Gallery

“What Was Scattered Gathers, What Was Gathered Blows Apart,” the title of a new exhibition running in the Kinetic Gallery until April 1, is evocative, despite its ambiguity.

Featuring the work of artist James Paulsen, these paintings overlay partnered images, often one from pop culture or advertising, and the other from stark reality, to create a jarring effect.

“I think my work deals with the nature of paradox,” Paulsen said. “The fact that you can have two conflicting concepts, ideas, within one overarching subject matter.”

What was scattered, then, gathers as the viewer attempts to form a connection between what can often seem like disparate images. One work, titled “Puts a Smile in Your Smoking,” uses jagged lines to blur the lines between a smoking advertisement, and a depiction of a lab rat. Our understanding of each image, then, blows apart, as we try to grasp the greater statement of each work.

The show was set up when Activities Commission Arts and Exhibits Coordinator sophomore Chelsea Butkowski saw some of Paulsen’s work while he was tabling at the Echo Art Fair in Buffalo.

The paintings Paulsen brings with him come from two separate series, “Grand Consumption” and “The Other One Makes It True.” Each is composed first of a sketch, bringing the two ideas together and attempting to find a unique way to display them.

That he often works in popular images, particularly from advertising, is deliberate.

“Since [Andy] Warhol, no artist should be too concerned with appropriating images. It’s all out there for you to mix together,” Paulsen said. By connecting the ideas, he said he’s “trying to complete the idea, [and] give a fuller picture.”

The results can be striking, but also fun, and are often meant to be funny. Depending on the painting, Paulsen can strive for absurdity, commentary or both.

Affable in person, the paintings often seem to fit along with his mannerisms, not shoving an impression down a person’s throat, but leading them to a number of conclusions.

While juxtapositions and appropriation of popular imagery are nothing new, Paulsen crafts them in interesting ways, slicing each apart before figuring a better way to slot it into place.

His pieces make use of bright colors that pop out of the canvas. Paulsen said that art is meant, at least in part, to be entertainment. Putting the pieces together is part of that entertainment.

If Paulsen hopes the audience has one takeaway from the exhibit, it would be this: “I think with my work, you’re trying to figure out what’s going on, what images are actually in the painting and how they’re related conceptually, … the overall experience of finding the work and trying to figure it out.”