Andy Warhol wasn’t much of a bird watcher. The iconic pop artist had a house out on Long Island — the closest thing we have to the county here — that was used mainly for parties.
For Bushwick-based artist Mel Smothers, that facet has inspired him to conduct a (metaphorical) dialogue with the pop icon in his series, “Dear Andy: Postcards from Montauk.”
In his paintings, the artist, and nature lover, has been communing with Warhol, traveling to the artist’s eastern aerie and reporting back what he sees. In a direct link to the artist, he is using as the basis for his paintings a takeoff of Warhol’s iconic portrait of Mao, but painting over in a similar vein to Robert Rauschenberg erasing the Andy Warhol of his day — Willem de Kooning.
There are hundreds of these paintings, with slight variations from one to the next, with laughing gulls and abstract lilies painted over the image of the Red Chinese leader.
“I’m using a visual image that Andy was famous for, which it was rumored he had assistants print 3,000 copies of,” said Smothers. “And I’m doing it with a paint and brush.”
One such painting— the 25th in his series — will be on display this month in the exhibition, “Beyond Warhol in the 21st Century: A Post-Pop MetaRomantic Retrofit,” running at the Brooklyn Artists Gym Gallery in Gowanus starting June 11.
The exhibition, fresh off a run in Chicago, features the work of four artists, like Smothers, who react consciously to the work of Warhol.
The timing couldn’t be better — a major retrospective of the pop icon himself is opening at the Brooklyn Museum only a week after BAG’s opening.
“There’s such a close connection between what we’re doing and what they’re exhibiting at the Brooklyn Museum,” said Robert Furman, the curator of “Beyond Warhol” who sought out a Brooklyn gallery to exhibit the show timed with the Brooklyn Museum show. “It was such kismet. I couldn’t believe it.”
Beyond Smothers, there are Furman’s own pieces in the show — a mix of video and sculpture that find a kinship in other pop icons, including Marilyn Monroe. Photographer Peggy Roberts’s series of storefront photos reference Warhol’s days as a window display designers — surrealistic dream-like pieces that capture reflections from the street. And lastly, Pindar Van Arman takes Warhol’s desire to “paint like a machine” to heart — he uses a programmed robot to paint his pieces, which, like Warhol’s, tend towards portraiture.
While Van Arman embraces this machination of the art process, it is something Smothers reacts to strongly in his own paintings.
“On the East Coast, there’s the phenomena of the artist who doesn’t even do his own paintings,” said Smothers. “I really love painting, and that’s my dialogue with Andy Warhol: Is the pop artist just a machine? Or is pop art really about painting? What is pop art?”
“Beyond Warhol in the 21st Century: A Post-Pop MetaRomantic Retrofit” at BAG Gallery [168 Seventh St. between Second and Third avenues in Gowanus, (718) 858-9069], June 11-28 with an opening night party from 6-10 pm. For info, visit www.brooklynartistsgym.com.