Andy Moon Wilson and the artist currently known as "Bean" (aka Ben Worley and Bean Summer) are kindred spirits on several fronts. Both deal with pattern and repetition, and both have taken that vague and wily thing we call "culture" and whipped it into a vivid, manic, often fun-to-drink brew. For those interested in such behind-the-scenes doings, Wilson and Bean also share an ally in Lloyd Benjamin, the artist/gallery owner and jack-of-all-trades. Benjamin framed Bean's show Encyclopedia Studies. And Benjamin's gallery, Get This!, is Wilson's showcase for his first solo show in Atlanta, Line Colonies.
But where Wilson and Bean most significantly differ is in technique. In profoundly low-tech fashion, Wilson draws on paper in ink, while Bean uses digital photography and computers. It is a gulf between them demarcated by lo-fi versus high-tech, pen versus keyboard, hands-on doodle versus computer-mediated print. Wilson designs high-end rugs, a vocation played out in his richly patterned and intricate drawings. And Bean books bands for local nightclubs while attending graduate school at Georgia State, which may explain his willingness to try many different things at once in his art.
In Line Colonies Wilson presents art about, in many ways, a subversion of work in the time clock and W-2 sense.
In "The Dude Project‚" Wilson combines drawings and text into a manly Note to Self. There is humping. There are knives. There are monster trucks. There is midget racing and ping-pong – all addressed in drawings done on 120 yellow Post-It notes. That most utilitarian of memory aids becomes subverted in the self-conscious fan-boy kookiness of Wilson's project. Wilson's investigation and indulging of "lad" urges in many ways parallels Saltworks artist Michael Scoggins' manic, boyish drawings of soldiers, warfare and forts.
Wilson's thumbed nose to Big Daddy continues in "Business," with 140 business cards face down against the wall like traitors awaiting the firing squad. Wilson uses the back of the cards for carefully executed architectural follies and elaborate mechanical systems rendered in often achingly precise pen-and-ink drawings. More refined than mere doodles, the drawings suggest fanciful daydreams and visions of some mythic place beyond the dull corridors of business.
The overriding fixation of Wilson's show is the doodle: distracted or angry, whimsical or unconscious drawing. But that effect yields different results in Line Colonies. The doodle is crude and compulsive in a less engaging series of drawings on graph paper called Gridlock‚ which, like some of Wilson's other work, can move from conceptual Rorschach test to opaque and uninspired scribbling and code-making.
The best work in Line Colonies is generally not in the dense ink labyrinths. It is in Wilson's marvelous flying machines, The Floating World Series, and the exquisite Blue Buildings, in which mania and compulsion become lighter than air.
The doodle goes lyrical and the dude sprouts wings in these flights of architectural fancy. Those two bodies of work meld a mishmash of architectures: gothic, pagodas, onion domes, froufrou Victorian, steeples, ridiculous buildings and imposing ones, into a structural lacework of imaged realities. Obsessions mutate into curlicued, ornamental imaginative forms that marry candy-box sweetness and obsession-made-object.
Both utopian and megalomaniacal, the pastiche buildings and frilly flying machines reference past decorative styles, but say something about our own times where dreams have veered off the rails into a no-man's-land of madness.
Bean is an obsessive of sorts, too, in his archiving of the outmoded. Rather than the distracted, dum-dee-dum doodle, it is the World Book Encyclopedia: bound, authoritative and unadorned by 21st-century political correctness that serves as his muse. Bean says that unlike the high-falutin' Encyclopædia Britannica, it was the heavy-on-the-visuals 1957 World Book Encyclopedia that really hooked him. Bean's exhibition at Beep Beep Gallery, Encyclopedia Studies, is drawn from his ongoing effort to use all 25,000 images in the 18-volume encyclopedia, in this show starting at the very beginning with the letter "A."
Assembled like film strips or scrolls, the repeated images of animals and athletes, ants and atoms from the World Book form a 20th-century taxonomy of just what 1957 deemed worthy of inclusion in our assembled human knowledge. As Bean observes, that translates to more pages devoted to airplanes than to Africa. Bean takes these dated images and through the wonders of contemporary technology speeds them up to the frenzied pace of our own visual culture.
In some works, the overlay of images results in unsettling palimpsests, like the ghost images of soldiers that can be glimpsed beneath illustrations of military ranks and insignia in "Letter A-Overlay Study-13." Bean's techniques at times parallel Soviet filmmakers such as Sergei Eisenstein, who theorized that colliding images in montage can generate meaning.
Both Bean and Wilson have a tendency to throw too many ideas and variations on a theme out there‚ an idea perhaps best illustrated by Wilson's dead-end "Megadoodle" or the video piece accompanying Bean's prints, rather than presenting a clean, consistent thread. Some of the work feels riffy and tentative, though both shows have enough going on to assure us that too few ideas will never be either artist's problem.