I had forgotten all about Wimpy, Popeye’s round-bellied, hamburger-loving sidekick. Or was he Popeye’s antagonist? No matter … today’s generation of cartoon watchers are unlikely to have had much exposure to Popeye and his bulging biceps. Certainly, my 8-year-old daughter draws a blank when I suggest that she, too, will have Popeye muscles if she eats her spinach. Most adults, though, will remember Popeye — and even Wimpy, if prodded. -‘Two More Payments’ by J. Ivcevich- So it was with some measure of surprise that I encountered my old cartoon friend at Ruschman Gallery, one of the city’s oldest and most venerable galleries showcasing the work of established regional artists. Plaster casts of Wimpy stand sentinel on the floor along the gallery walls, a humorous compliment to the quirky artwork that hangs above them. Indianapolis native J. Ivcevich, who now lives in Atlanta, Ga., has achieved a large measure of success with such oddball artistic antics, at least outside of Indianapolis.
Ivcevich, who is a sociologist by trade, seems to draw on a keen sense of human nature and social patterns in his art. But this is art that does not take itself too seriously, even if its refined, pop art sensibility (excuse the pun, Popeye) speaks to a mature aesthetic sense.
The exhibit, Tis of Thee … II: New Paintings, marks Ivcevich’s first solo effort here at home — and the artwork is refreshingly well-conceived and well-executed, deserving of landing the cover of the most recent edition of New American Paintings (available locally at Northside News and select bookstores, and by subscription). Ivcevich discerns and lays down the outlines of imagery and thus distills the essence of what he sees. He puts down acrylic paint as if it were a pen creating textural surfaces on the canvas.
His pictures, precise and lean, are clever and yet they speak to modernist explorations of the banality of culture as expressed by iconic imagery. But Ivcevich breathes life into what could be perceived as emptiness, with his fanciful titles and angles. On the international scene, artists such as Archangelo have also made something out of what at first seems to be nothing: a construction crane reaching into the blue sky over a stylized tree, for example.
Ivcevich draws from a similar plane: borrowing images from the everyday — an electrical transformer standing next to a tall chain link fence topped by coils of barbed wire; a mobile home seemingly afloat like a silver spaceship. These objects become exercises in graphic experimentation as well as comments on our built environment and its effect on our humanity. Ivcevich calls this “cultural bricolage,” which suggests a joining together of disparate elements — a joining that may or may not give them meaning but that certainly draws our attention towards places we may not ordinarily look. And Ivcevich invites us to look without judgment. Ivcevich reminds us what we miss if we forget to look up … or down.
New Paintings by J. Ivcevich are on view through July 5 at Ruschman Art Gallery, 948 N. Alabama St., 634-3114.