Born Waterford, Michigan, 1981 / BFA, College for Creative Studies / Lives in Hamtramck, Michigan
How do you construct a life in the ex-urban cultural wasteland of Waterford? How do you create meaning from the detritus of America’s lowest-common-denominator consumer culture? Two questions that may, or may not, interest the artist Dylan Spaysky. Most likely he would politely decline any such lofty dimensions to his work.
There is a belief that if you want to be heard, you talk with a quiet voice; even so, it takes some sense of purpose to build a solo show at Brooklyn’s Cleopatra’s Gallery around a series of tiny sculptures whittled from backyard sticks (e.g., Ice Cream Cone, 2013). Spaysky also successfully suggested that a group show at the neurotically image-fixated Center Galleries be given the numbingly anodyne title Creative Expressions, and created a poster for the preciously independent Hamtramck Neighborhood Arts Festival (2014) that features a written homage to the crassly commercial Red Bull House of Art. These deflationary strategies happen too often to be coincidence. In fact Spaysky doesn’t believe in coincidence, or chance, but that doesn’t stop him embracing processes that produce unexpected imperfections and discarding processes that are too repeatable.
Spaysky is a distinguished graduate of Chido Johnson’s “Center for Chido-mensional Studies,” and credits the vastly influential sculpture professor with awakening him to the latent meaning of the everyday objects and materials surrounding him. He entered the program seeing art-making as the mastery of conventional craft-based techniques such as painting and sculpture, and left investigating more esoteric skills, such as how best to bind discarded fake fruit into a workable media (Apple Clock, 2015) or sculpting from hot glue (Garfield Pen, 2008). In many cases it would be quicker and easier for him to produce work using his more traditional skills. Johnson describes Spaysky’s approach as learning how to do things, and then learning how to hide his expertise.
Spaysky sources much of his starting material from local thrift stores, both for pragmatic financial reasons and because he is inter-ested in thrift-store merchandise as the local indicator for processes of desire, consumption, commodification, marketing, selection, design, etc. In Bunny Wreath (2015) he took a mixed bag of Easter ephemera, added silicon to allow it to be deformed, and then flattened the resulting mixture by driving over it. In less skilled hands the work could be seen as an act of violence against the crushingly conventional subject matter. In Spaysky’s case, you get the impression he is claiming the right for his own individuality to coexist with it.
Tellingly, Spaysky credits the stereotypical Midwestern boyhood trips to Disney World as positive formative experiences, even going so far as to say he would go back there any time. This situates his work both in popular culture and in a certain open-eyed view of the world. In an insightful essay on a 2015 solo show at New York’s CUE Art Foundation, Torey Akers describes Spaysky’s work (nonpejoratively) as “boy-art.” This seems fitting, despite Spaysky’s regular use of traditionally feminine crafts such as embroidery and crochet.
Recently Spaysky has created large bodies of work around common, but offbeat, forms, such as the fountain (e.g., Blue Fountain, 2014), the lamp (e.g., Crocheted Lamp, 2014), and, memorably, the cat tower (e.g., Cat Tower 1, 2013). The consumer archetypes they are based on speak to a certain amount of discretionary spending, and, in the case of the lamp and the fountain, some degree of personalization of surroundings. They are representative of easily overlooked objects that over time fill up middle-class homes. Spaysky’s adoption of these everyday forms certainly has humor, but it doesn’t come across as ironic. Rather, the works appear more as sincere reflections on vernacular creativity and a nonblinkered approach to looking at the world.
Ultimately Spaysky’s art, located as it is in his origins in the chronically unfashionable middle-class Midwestern suburbs, tells us that we can choose our home but we can’t choose where we’re from, that one person’s cultural wasteland is another person’s culture, and that perhaps the man in the Crocheted Mickey Mouse Mask knows more than he’s letting on.
Steve Panton, April 2015
Copyright Essay’d 2015