Smooz Yazz

Installation view at LVL3 gallery in Chicago, IL

Installation view at LVL3 gallery in Chicago, IL

Sometimes an art gallery can be a social, commercial, and cultural dystopia. At other times it is a lightbox, illuminating, occasionally rendering a collection of forms and ideas. It can be a place of  alienation, confusion; it is always a place of collective experience, even when the viewer is present alone.

Though the space was silent and relatively clean, it seemed that a party had occurred. There were leftovers of a celebration with playful objects distributed throughout: confetti, sprinkles, and psychedelia covered the floor and walls; pennant banners hung suspended from the ceiling.  We were there in the middle of the day. The silent, still space conveyed a feeling of a happening that did not happen, or of a space designed to watch a party without being part of it.  This dystopia was a virtual space, a space of gesture and made of gestures that enfold and obscure; it left us asking: “What happened here?” In the midst of this, we found Smooz Yazz.

Ben Sanders, Smooz Yazz, 2015, Acrylic and collage on panel, 24" X 30," 2015, installed at LVL3 in Chicago, IL

Ben Sanders, Smooz Yazz, 2015, Acrylic and collage on panel, 24″ X 30,” installed at LVL3 in Chicago, IL

From afar, the painting looked innocuous enough, especially with its unassuming placement by a window. We nonchalantly approached to take a look. Struck by the juvenile shock of outdoor jazz festival T-shirts and nifty 1980’s accessories, we couldn’t help but shriek and laugh. Smooz Yazz was a prankster fucking with us, making us uncomfortable and directing our perception with optical illusions.

Squiggly black strokes, like streamers of confetti, surrounded a line drawing of an abstracted saxophonist with a puzzling face/tongue/mouth – or maybe some cool sunglasses. More confetti made of colorful acrylic paint chips scattered across the panel’s flat surface in the form of thin, jagged crescents. Two raised corners jammed the viewing perspective, while the artist’s distasteful signature scattered downward in tiny capital letters, like silly globs of frosting.

Ben Sanders, Smooz Yazz (detail), 2015, Acrylic and collage on panel, 24" X 30," 2015

Ben Sanders, Smooz Yazz (detail), 2015, Acrylic and collage on panel, 24″ X 30″

The painting resembled 1980’s stationery or stickers in fun colors, but some of the visual references complicated this. Digital imaging clichés like page curl, drop shadow, and cut-and-paste repetition – things that were designed for computer screens in order to mimic reality – now lived in a physical painting. Yet they maintained the same illusionistic effect despite being painted. Wait, reality tricked us into looking like… reality?

The title, Smooz Yazz, sounded like a toddler’s or toothless individual’s speech. Much like elevator music, Smooth Jazz the genre is embarrassing among a cultured crowd. Our memory of the 1980’s is also one of awkwardness and embarrassment at the charade of sporty coolness. Decidedly both lowbrow and highbrow, kitsch and sophisticated at the same time, this painting’s complexity lives life to its fullest while bamboozling the middlebrow.  This bamboozlement is where we found the dystopian – in that empty party space where our sense of belonging was itself powerfully estranged.