Cliff Hengst & John De Fazio Bring Their Counterculture History to pt.2 Gallery, Oakland
pt.2 Gallery is excited to present an exhibition featuring the work of longtime San Francisco artists and counterculture icons, John de Fazio and Cliff Hengst. Despite their interconnected paths, this marks the first time the artists have shown together, placing the boldly irreverent yet vastly different artistic practices in conversation. Whether it’s Hengst’s text paintings on paper which hold the immediacy of political signage yet retain an open endedness that pushes them into another realm entirely, or de Fazio’s layered kitsch creations that use old forms to create entirely new fantasies, both artists have built full-fledged worlds within their artist practices for decades and it’s to our collective betterment that we are privy to the discussion.
With a background combining acting, performance, writing, visual art, and having attended and taught at SFAI similar to John de Fazio, Hengst’s multifaceted work and teaching practice have enmeshed the artist deep within the Bay Area arts ecosystem for decades. For this exhibition Hengst will show a series of his iconic text paintings, as well as two watercolor works on paper. The artist’s text paintings hover somewhere between painting, performance, writing and political activism. Reaching back to a time when the artist worked in a market as a teen creating signs for the latest deals, these language-based works have evolved as a way for Hengst to create paintings in a fluid and improvisational manner without losing himself in the formal elements or heady baggage that can accompany the discipline. Instead, Hengst employs snippets of information, things the artist has overheard or lyrics from songs that have lodged themselves within the brain of the artist. Through the immediacy of transferring these letters to brightly colored pieces of paper in bold hand painted text, Hengst both memorializes inane bits of information and creates a mantra that is repeated until the very meaning of the letters and words begins to lose meaning–obliterating language itself. Included in the show alongside the text works are more delicate watercolor works on paper that hint at the range of the artist. At times radiating with portal-like strips of color that emanate like auras, or in others human and cat head forms comprised of pools of watercolor, arranged in delicate balance, releasing trails of exhale from their mouths which crawl slowly to the top of the compositions.
Similar to Cliff, John de Fazio’s path as an artist has taken him from Philadelphia to San Francisco for an MFA learning under the tutelage of ceramic master Richard Shaw, back to New York where the artist created figures for Pee Wee’s Playhouse, worked for MTV on a variety of projects, all the while developing a unique aesthetic through the reassemblage and queering of kitsch ceramic molds. For this exhibition, de Fazio will exhibit a mixture of never before seen work as well as archival pieces that date back to the late 80’s and early 90’s. Like an adept DJ John de Fazio mixes a variety of structures provided by plaster molds, combining characters in often perverse unions and juxtapositions, further camouflaging these originals through an incredibly layered decoration and firing process. Whether it’s a bong that takes the form of a cartoony Michael Jackson as seen in Barry Gordy’s 1978 film The Wiz, or a funerary urn of a zombie gnome pushing a cart replete with bones sticking out, an ACT UP patch adorning the back of the magical figure’s hoodie–despite their deeply layered cultural references and implicit humor, each sculpture operates as a conduit for the transportation of consciousness, body, mind and spirit.