There still is a certain mystery to the artistic character of the celebrated New York artist Todd James. When researching about him on the internet, there really isn’t much about his upbringing other than a sentence on the “About” section of his website that reads: “Todd James (a.k.a. REAS) is an internationally recognized artist who began his career as a child in the New York City subway system.” This mystery around the artist’s experiences of life and how he came to be such a recognised artist surely makes him a self-taught “underground artist” – even though it is well known that he designed the Beastie Boys’ Brooklyn Elephant Dust logo, as well logos for Eminem and Kid Rock. Even though his work is shown in some of the most globally renowned museums such as the Tate Liverpool and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia there is still a lot to discover about the artist himself. The exhibition, entitled Todd James: World Domination, represents his works as “underground pieces” in a world thousands of miles away from our cradle of Western civilisation.
The exhibition presents his Somali Pirates series, depicting Bedouin style colourful headdresses, carrying AK-47s and RPGs, against equally colourful and tropical backdrops with palm trees, massive suns, sea and tankers. The pirates seem to smoke incessantly, drink tea brewed in samovars, spend a lot of time preparing guns and standing guard. But it’s not all about male Somali pirates waiting for some action to happen. There are also paintings bringing together blonde women surrounded by cats, sunglasses and guns. Sometimes nude, sometimes wearing captain’s caps; their presence makes us question the representation of women in the media. The gouache and graphite painting on paper titled Tits and Guns denotes the All-American female stereotype as the cheerleader of the Apocalypse. It stretches the boundary between obscenity and humour. After all, there truly is a fine line between the two.
There is a great element of political humour in Pee’s Keeping Forces Two, showing two soldiers standing across from each other wearing “UN” helmets, holding their guns at rest and urinating. However, the Vandal’s Bedroom is probably the most striking of James’ works. Previously the highlight of the Art in the Streets exhibition at MOCA, LA, this installation shows the bedroom of a teenage boy with hopes of world domination through graffiti-infused drawings. There is a tiny little floor bed in one corner, a sock reclining between the sheets and the pillow, and cans of paint on several surfaces. The lamp on the small desk lights up the cabin-like room with a single window to peer in from. Michael Moorcock’s fantasy novel Stormbringer (1965) is tilted against the wall behind the desk. The cases of PC games such as Gears of War and Modern Warfare are visible. The chair by the desk is empty and there is no computer in sight. Vandal’s Bedroom is a manifestation of personal space and imagination versus the outside world.
Highly political, highly humorous, highly colourful and stylistic, many of the works in the exhibition had already sold just two days after its opening. The fantastically realistic works involved in, World Domination are open to audiences at Lazarides Gallery, London, until 11 April.
Todd James: World Domination, until 11 April, Lazarides Gallery, 11 Rathbone Place, London W1T 1HR.
1. Blue Shade Tree, 2013 © Todd James.
2. Recorce Manager, 2013 © Todd James.
3. Pirate © Todd James.