ASHES/ASHES is pleased to present Animal Crackers, an exhibition by Mike Shultis. It is the artist’s debut solo exhibition in NYC and his first with the gallery. The show will be on view from October 29th to December 19th, 2021, with an opening on Friday, October 29th, from 6–8 pm. Gallery hours are Wednesday—Sunday, 12–6 pm.
The exhibition consists of five new paintings which reference the Bible, Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps, a safari trophy, Florida Man’s mugshot, and the artist’s self-portrait. Collecting a plethora of materials from thrift stores, online, and off the streets, Shultis pieces together — often through spontaneous actions and processes — figurative narratives contained within polychromatic frames. Following in the trajectory of the late American artist Robert Rauschenberg, who reinterpreted the Modern canon of painting through new modes of assemblage, chance interventions, and cultural references, Shultis continues the blurring of boundaries between art and life through his object-oriented paintings. Shultis, however, extends this historic lineage through various evocative themes exploring and critiquing universal parables, personal traumas, existential dread, and white male identity. While maintaining an irreverent contempt for traditional forms of illusory painting, Shultis forges a New Realism by vividly holding a funhouse mirror up to the most lurid elements of contemporary American society in these garish and maximalist dioramas.
The central work in the exhibition is the monumental Hunting Legends, 2021, which finds Shultis’ bric-à-brac style bursting from its container. In the manner of the late sculptor Jason Rhoades, the artist attacks his composition — a grinning duo of hunters displaying their prized trophy — with a chaotic array of sourced objects: fraternity paddles, used children’s toys, the artist’s hair, a cuckoo clock, and an Afghan war rug, to name only a handful. Here, and in the accompanying works, paint has been eschewed almost entirely — only intermittently punctuating this orgiastic evocation. Free from any obfuscation, Hunting Legends displays a neon sign urging you to “breathe” and summons for this grotesquery to be reanimated by the bright yellow electric cord spilling to the floor. As a final gesture, Shultis backs the heroes of Hunting Legends with a grid of red crackers, referencing the show’s title while extending the artist’s narrative paintings into the realm of installation for the first time.
In Eden, Florida, Peacockin’, and Thin Ice, 2021, Shultis constructs Frankensteinian material assemblages depicting contemporary typologies that offer a satirical portrait of American society. Through a form of ancient burial fetishization, Shultis suffocates these monstrous subjects behind an incomplete, paint-by-number coloring book screen. This act conceals and exposes his amalgamations, enacting the magic of funerary rituals in an attempt to banish his deplorables to another dimension. Similarly, these ostentatious caskets serve to entomb traditional painting tropes and usher in a New Painting. In the act of probing Shultis' painting surfaces, viewers sense a dissonance that creates an uncanny relationship between reality and a sugar-coated delusion, allowing them to get lost in the abstraction while also seeing themselves reflected back.
– Ryan E. Steadman
Mike Shultis (b. 1987; Albuquerque, NM ) lives and works in Albuquerque, NM. He received an MFA in Painting and Printmaking from Yale School of Art (New Haven, CT) and a BFA in Painting from Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (Philadelphia, PA). He has had solo exhibitions at: PM/AM (London, United Kingdom); Diane Rosenstein (Los Angeles, CA); and a two-person exhibition at Thierry Goldberg Gallery (New York, NY). His work has been included in group exhibitions at: Carl Kostyál (Stockholm and Malmö, Sweden); The Bronx Museum of the Arts (The Bronx, NY); and Rizzuto Gallery (Palermo, Italy).