Youth in Revolt: Aaron Fowler x Michael Shultis

Two hypertalented young artists meet during their BFA programs in Philadelphia. One interprets  contemporary urban life in found wood and industrial paint with unblinking emotion (that's Aaron Fowler), while the other revels in suburban boredom and adolescent dissent with ferocious fervor (that's Michael Shultis). Sometimes they collaborate, like in their dual debut at Thierry Goldberg Gallery, and together they're practically fearless. New York, I hope you're ready. — Brian Fee, Austin contributor

Aaron Fowler | Self Portrait, 2013, mixed-media on panel, 20 x 16 inches. 
Michael Shultis | Selfy, 2013, mixed-media on canvas, 28 x 16 inches. Images courtesy the artists and Thierry Goldberg Gallery, New York.

For the benefit of first-time viewers, I could try comparing Fowler's visually-charged, figurative wood assemblages to John Outterbridge and Noah Purifoy, while Shultis' searing Pop-tastic palette and gruesome media echoes Chicago Imagist founder Jim Nutt and his warped compadre Peter Saul. But this is a purely surface reading, only scratching at what these young artists achieve in their dynamic figuration and bold utilization of unlikely materials. Fowler conjures a pirate theme in recalling scenes of gang violence and social unrest, embedding his participants so seamlessly within the accumulated compositions that our gaze is necessarily tugged inward. Shultis' patchwork creations bound against sugary backdrops of smily clouds and laser sight-lines, daring us to stare too long.

Aaron Fowler | Tough Love, 2013, mixed-media on panel, 60 x 80 x 11 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Thierry Goldberg Gallery, New York.

Aaron Fowler | Nigga F**K Yo Cousin, 2013, mixed-media on panel, 90 x 112 x 10 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Thierry Goldberg Gallery, New York.

Fowler excels with depth. Tough Love, opening the show in a graceful act of domestic retribution, unfolds with the horizontal flow of a stage play, as the protagonist extends her sword-wielding arm across the composition, into her attacker's mess of fabrics body (“AHHH! SHIT” reads scrawled text at point of contact). Nigga F**K Yo Cousin has one pirate lunging at us, stepping over the accumulated stacked boards that mimic a ship deck and constitute the work's bottom half. Meanwhile, his matey points a pistol our way, Uncle Sam-style. The neighboring Untitled work incorporates a diving board, marred by stained footprints, as a gangplank to another wood-slatted ship. The tricorner-hatted Captain, whose opulent garments include oscillating teals on green and the remnants of a Levi's shopping bag, stands assuredly at the deck, while his younger, melted-faced mates look on in horror at the violence that just occurred.

Aaron Fowler x Michael Shultis installation view. Image courtesy Thierry Goldberg Gallery, New York.

Michael Shultis | Gee Wiz, 2013, mixed-media on canvas, 58 x 68 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Thierry Goldberg Gallery, New York.

Returning to my “Hairy Who” comparison, Shultis' “low-art” panache and chromatic bombarding acts as a vessel for deeper concerns beyond a superficial reading. His depictions of pillow-fights, a watermark of teenaged girl slumber party rites of passage, are imbued with dashes of violence, like the unexpected splash of blood in Gee Wiz or the freeze-frame tension in Okey Dokey, with one tackily tattooed girl wielding an off-frame implement like a cleaver, another clutching a grayish feathery mass like a concrete block over her cowering victim. Adolescent growing pains and overactive pheromone reactions personified, jealous backstabbing as literal backstabbing.

Michael Shultis | Okey Dokey, 2013, mixed-media on canvas, 70 x 84 x 6 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Thierry Goldberg Gallery, New York.

Aaron Fowler x Michael Shultis | Gobbledygook I, 2013, mixed-media on panel, 85 x 243 inches. Image courtesy the artists and Thierry Goldberg Gallery, New York.

Fowler and Shultis teamed up on two eight-door pieces here, Gobbledygook I and II, each executing their panels separately and mixing them at their conclusion. These are rife with young male energy, Fowler's a tide of stampeding dinosaurs hemmed in by a caution-tape band of melted VHS tapes; Shultis' many-legged green Venusians seemingly beamed down from a Star Trek fan-fiction. This isn't their first collaboration: the sedate and rather sobering 2012 multipanel work Ignorance shows both artists adept at textural restraint. Gobbledygook, meanwhile, is a lot to take in. Perhaps this total visual overload is their intent, a break from the knowing focus of Fowler's sociopolitical narratives and Shultis' slick, and surprisingly complicated, suburban bliss.

Aaron Fowler x Michael Shultis | Gobbledygook I (detail). Image courtesy Thierry Goldberg Gallery, New York.

Aaron Fowler | Untitled, 2013, mixed-media on panel, 96 x 133 x 70 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Thierry Goldberg Gallery, New York.

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Aaron Fowler (b. 1988; St. Louis, Missouri) lives and works in New Haven, Connecticut. He received his BFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, and is pursuing his Masters at Yale University School of Art, New Haven. His work has been exhibited at Thierry Goldberg Gallery, New York; Family Business Gallery, New York; and Sophia Wanamaker Gallery, San Jose, Costa Rica.

Michael Shultis (b. 1987; Albuquerque, New Mexico) lives and works in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He holds a BFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia. Past exhibitions include Non Fiction Gallery, Savanna, GA; Inliquid, Philadelphia, PA; Little Berlin, Philadelphia, PA; and Open Mind Space, Albuquerque, NM. Aaron Fowler x Michael Shultis continues through October 6.

Brian Fee is an art punk based currently in Austin, TX, but he can usually be found in New York, Tokyo, or Berlin, depending on the art season.

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