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Ho Bags by Harmony Korine and Bill Saylor, The Journal Gallery, 2010

Harmony Korine is known chiefly as a filmmaker, best known for writing Larry Clark’s 1995 cult hit Kids. His most recent movie, Trash Humpers, was variously decried and praised for its unabashedly gritty commitment to a certain kind of disturbing, voyeuristic realism. Bill Saylor is an artist who works in a surreal vein of the American visual vernacular remixing ideas of the great West, motorcycle culture, and 60s psychadelia into a seething new whole. The pair have collaborated on a recently released zine, called Ho Bags, that springs from a similar milieu: messy, dirty, smudged drawings present the psychotic essence of the unrealized and over-idealized American Dream.

Published by The Journal Gallery, which is both a gallery space and a publication/publisher, the zine is bound in a textured light-blue cover emblazoned with heavy sans-serif script in a darker blue. It reminds me, in a pretty forceful and uncomfortable way, of an elementary school worksheet or test notebook. The symbol is a fitting foil for the drawings inside, which are presented without text, explanation or artist statement. Upon opening the zine, one is immediately catapulted into a twitchy daydream of monster faces submerged in free-form doodle lines and abstract sinkholes of paint and brushstrokes, sprinkled with reoccurring symbols, chiefly collage cut-outs of car and motorcycle wheels. It’s a class-time book dropped out of school.

Like the aimless freaks and drop-outs of Trash Humpers, the charaters that populate Ho Bags don’t make that much sense, but they don’t need to to still punch you in the face. In a mix of abstract expressionist paint explosions and childhood bored-at-school doodles, a gaping shark emerges from the haze. Lines come together in iconographic representations of faces, circles for eyes and ovals for mouths. The realism here is not in the depictions; it’s in the impact. These are crumpled papers that might be found blowing around a sketchy neighborhood’s muddy sidewalk.

The avalanche of drawings contained within Ho Bags is at its most striking when the pages show less disdain for formalism. Try as they might to attain an off-the-cuff slapdash look, there are huge bodies of visual experience here guiding the hands of the artists. The overlay of crazed-teenager monster doodles and jagged crayon lines looks loose, but the compositions are often drum-tight, and better when they embrace this inner sense of structure. One spread pits an abstract sweep of paint strokes on a blank page at left against brushy bodies of black that coalesce into a face, a silhouetted body, at right. In one visual move is enclosed the tension of an overheated imagination pitted against a violent world.

While the zine is striking in itself, the quality of the black and white prints aren’t terrific. That the images are a little muddy is to be expected, but the prints often lose the tactile sensation that seeing the works in person would have. Thought the whole zine is in black and white, some of the original images are actually paintings in color, visible on display at NADA Miami 2010 in the photo below (from this post on NADA). The punchy, surreal feel of the colors is a big loss in the black and white zine version, but that doesn’t mean the zine isn’t a worthwhile trip nonetheless. That the images are collected together in a bound book, rather than as discrete works, makes their total effect that much stronger.

Images from “Ho Bags” on display at NADA Miami 2010 (photo by Hrag Vartanian)

Ho Bags is available at Printed Matter

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Kyle Chayka

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly,...

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