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February 14 - March 22, 2003 at Circle Elephant Art, Silver Lake

by Bill Lasarow

According to social philosopher Jean Baudrillard--one of the leading critics of postmodern culture--by our time in history every possible artistic form and function has been exhausted. To quote this audacious European theorist, "All that remains to be done is to deconstruct and play with the pieces." Artists all over the world have been following Baudrillard's credo for the last two decades: Appropriate and deconstruct, then reassemble the parts in provocative new ways.

In his dark, disturbing solo exhibit, Paper Thin, David Meanix takes Baudrillard quite literally. Pioneering a process that he calls "photographic sculpture," Meanix creates three-dimensional portraits of his subjects through several demanding steps.

First he takes traditional photographs of people. Then he arduously shoots each plane of each face, inch by inch, and develops these planes to actual size. Next he covers the original portraits with photocopies of the prints he has made--juxtaposing them to form paper maché "photographic sculptural masks" that hide, alter, or transform each subject's original identity. Lastly, he re-photographs each of these "sculpted" mosaic portraits in totally new surroundings--settings that relate to the hidden persona he has revealed through his photographic process.

Viewing Paper Thin is a powerful but painful experience. Some of the portraits have dark troubled eyes staring out of the same haunted mask. Stoic and/or full of inner conflict and torment, each enigmatic portrait seems to be silently searching and questioning: "Does anyone really know who I am?" "Does anyone care what I think?" "How long must I go on hiding or pretending?" and "Is it ever safe to reveal myself?"

A Welcome Change presents an androgynous figure with a tormented male face, wild hair and dark beard, soft feminine shoulders and gracefully gloved arms. In Onslaught the artist explores the same psychological conflict and sexual contradiction by joining a pale male death-mask to a posturing, nearly nude female. The ominous face appears again in Changing Skins (where it peers out of a hooded sweatshirt posed against a wall of scrawled graffiti), as well as in See Through, which is a close-up mosaic of a fractured face with sad, pensive eyes.

“Gallerist,” 2002,
color photograph.

“Repose,” 2002,
color photograph.

“See Through,” 2002,
color photograph.

“Changing Skins,” 2002,
color photograph.

Several of the portraits carry subtly subversive subtexts that question religious and political authority. In The Page Turner, Meanix photographs a young girl kneeling at a Baroque altar replete with heaven, saints and angels. Although she turns the pages of her Bible like a true believer, her enigmatic mask suggests growing inner doubts.

The same pink mosaic face appears on the portrait of Gallerist. Looking at paintings with a Mona Lisa half-smirk, the young female appears to be thinking "What the hell is that supposed to be?"

As for Parental Authority and Man About Town, viewers might cringe when they see the visual influence of a dominating father on his obedient young daughter (the former), or the monstrous Frankenstein mask on the powerful political figure (the latter).

The only portrait that expresses any semblance of peace is Repose. In this picture, Meanix photographs his male subject lying down horizontally in tall green grass, staring through a clear-colored mask. Even here, the conveyed feeling of hope is uncertain.

Perhaps some of the works in Paper Thin are self-portraits. Perhaps others are dark psychological studies of the artist's creative subconscious. Perhaps Meanix is using his camera to find answers to questions that have plagued him throughout his life--questions regarding self-identity, religion, power, and his personal place in the world. Ultimately, however, the specific subject is moot. Historically artists (together with scientists and theologians) have expressed a powerful need to find answers to all aspects of the human condition. Meanix lends his own convincing urgency to this universal search.