Elena Smyth, Born Detroit, Michigan, 1990 / BFA, College for Creative Studies / Lives in Detroit
Aubrey Smyth, Born Detroit, Michigan, 1990 / Lives in Detroit
Artists Elena and Aubrey Smyth, working together as Armageddon Beachparty, have created a universe, an epic narrative of deities and powerful beings in vivid images across a wide range of media. A shared, life-long love of comics, street art, and mythology permeates their paintings and sculptures while their canny sense of branding propagates their vision via prints, clothing, watches, and other objects. The artists paint contemporary pop surrealism scenes while surrounded by their considerable output and the energy from a steady stream of admirers and buyers in what Elena calls a “perpetual motion machine” of creativity.
The Armageddon Beachparty Lounge is located in Detroit’s Woodbridge neighborhood. The art gallery and venue is an “immersive destination” to experience Armageddon Beachparty’s artwork as well as the talents of local performers. Inside, amid swirling colors, otherworldly creatures peer out from paintings and prints on every surface. There is no sense of the annihilation that many ascribe to the word “armageddon.” Aubrey points out that rather than a time of devastation or apocalypse, he and Elena see Armageddon as a transitional period during which the world is created anew.
This balance of destruction and revitalization lies in the very bones of Providence: The Forgotten 5th (2016). Commissioned by musician Zac Brown, the sculpture reflects the artists’ research into the recent mythology of an overlooked fifth horse that arrives to herald rebirth and renewal after the biblical Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. At the heart of the piece is an antique wooden carousel horse that survived a fire 150 years ago in the workshop where it was being carved. The singed horse is now adorned in a fluorescent spectrum of paint and the skins of seven pheasants hunted by Brown’s father when he was a boy. Providence: The Forgotten 5th becomes an ancestor-invoking ritual object that looks to the future with the same stylized eye that appears across much of Armageddon Beachparty’s work.
The couple, also known as Kozma and Motu, took a life-changing leap into the unknown in 2013 when, with no savings, they left behind office jobs and call centers to commit fully to their art. They traveled by car across the United States for several months, drawing, painting, and selling their work to afford food and gas. Elena says it was a harrowing journey but also a spiritually transformative one, which showed them that they could accomplish anything together. Working side-by-side, they’ve made pieces for numerous exhibitions and have continued to travel for installation projects and residencies. Today, their creative practice has fused into a unified force, to the extent that neither can be certain who added one element or another to a painting. Typically Elena and Aubrey paint a single surface at the same time, as in the detail of Divine Duality (2018).
Divine Duality is a five-foot-tall painting on salvaged wood that portrays Guela and Gallos – creator deities in the world populated by Armageddon Beachparty’s recurring characters. Gidget the Cyclops Cat, a shape-shifting deity who appears in many works, is here stretched as long as a snake or vine. Highlights flicker out from the deities to depict a shimmer that Aubrey ascribes to both a godly inner glow and a surface akin to an oil slick – an embodiment of the balance and duality the pair strive for in their work. The sunny colors and flat geometry of the background, topped with the crisp yin-yang of the black and white figures, translates well to a smaller-sized print. In the tradition of serialized stories in periodicals or comics, the artists produce prints from their paintings, so the extensive Armageddon Beachparty narrative is widely accessible.
Oya in the Museum of Modern Cat Art (2019), The Angles of this Rectangle Are Too Monstrous to Contemplate (2018), and Conscious Observer (2018) are part of the “Tribal Bomb” series that transforms vintage images of women from magazines and historical photographs into goddesses festooned in a visual vocabulary drawn from ancient global cultures. In Oya, the Yoruba goddess of death and rebirth holds Gidget the Cyclops Cat. Amid the paint and ink overlaid on a large-format 1850s photograph, a black woman stares out at us from Victorian Detroit, the primordial and futuristic melding around her. Aztec angles splash into Japanese calligraphy that drips down into Arabic or Celtic linework while blocks of color evoke the square tidiness of a computer chip.
This fusion epitomizes the Armageddon Beachparty universe, where all time unifies in timelessness and mythologies meld into a single story, told painting by painting.
Mariwyn Curtin, November 2019