Chicago-based artist and educator shows at the Hyde Park Art Center.
Oli Watt: Here Comes a Regular is a subtly hilarious retrospective of reprinted everyday objects. Dotted throughout the building, and filling up a long hallway on the second floor of the venue, visitors are greeted with neon signs, altered traffic barriers, gag toys like whoopee cushions and bent arrows, and, most notably, a slew of irreverent “copies” of printed papers culled from everyday life. Most of these papers are screenprinted by the artist, and range from brightly colored “No Parking” signs, Ikea frame packaging, scribbled notes and lists, to the simple sheet of paper with two shoe soles that a car mechanic slides into a footwell to protect the carpet. Each piece is quotidian, and thus, often invisible, and has the ability to elicit both wry laughter and existential sorrow simultaneously.
In an interview with Josh McGhee of DNA Info, Watt credits inspiration for the show from the pop culture he has absorbed through his children (cartoons, jokes, music, and books): “I look at a lot of print-making and multiples, things for regular everyday objects, and sometimes I try to remake them as an exercise. Something will happen and I change it,” Watt told McGhee.
Like many printmakers, Watt collects these multiples, scraps of paper he squirrels around his northwest-Chicago studio for later inspiration. At a distance, many of his screenprints on display could be the very appropriated objects in his collection, yet, not all of the reproductions are direct facsimiles. The comedy of Watt’s work arises in the slight visibility of the artist’s hand in transcribing the image, like the imperfectly-shaded flowers of an Ikea frame insert, a kind of “undoing” of the kind of printed perfectionism we often expect from commercially-made objects. Here Comes a Regular is not simply an archive of the printed materials in our lives. Rather, Watt forces us to question our assumptions about what we see (or overlook) around us every day.
Oli Watt (b. 1968) is an Assistant Professor of Printmedia at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he has taught since 2003, and from where he received his MFA in 1998. He has exhibited nationally and internationally at the Brooklyn Museum of Art; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Spencer Brownstone, New York; Rocket Gallery, London; Roots & Culture, Chicago; and the Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago.
For other engaging print work in Chicago, head to the north side—Watt recently opened Free Range Gallery, an informal exhibition space connected to his studio (3257 W. Lawrence Avenue). New print collages by Alex Valentine are currently on view.
Oli Watt: Here Comes a Regular is held in conjunction with the group show A Study in Midwestern Appropriation, curated by Michelle Grabner, in which Watt is also an exhibiting artist. Both shows will be on view from September 22, 2013 – January 12, 2014 at the Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 South Cornell Avenue, Chicago, IL, 60615. Exhibitions are always free and open to the public.
Author’s note: This post has been updated to clarify information and to cite previously unacknowledged sources.
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