Wes Lang

Posted: June 1st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: no blah blah: one artist | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

In 2007 two pieces Wes Lang was supposed to exhibit in the group show “Mail Order Monsters” at Deitch Projects, NY, were pulled off because Jeffrey Deitch said (after the show opened) that they were not appropriate. The show, curated by Kathy Grayson, was supposed to explore “new trends in fucked-up figuration“, according to the gallery website. The original press release reads “Wes Lang’s monsters come from the cultural detritus of a very fucked-up America. He takes images pushed under the cultural carpet and forces them back into view to be countenanced. He often takes on Native American art, black Americana, the Civil War era, or pornography in his exploration of the deleted scenes of American history.”


What Is and What Never Should Be…, 2007, mixed media. Courtesy of the artist

The banned pieces of work included a pickaninny doll and a drawing. The term pickaninny (also picaninny or piccaninny) was used in the first place to caricature the children of African American slaves or African American citizens later. The pickaninny imagery included bulging eyes, messy hair, red lips and wide mouths. Although the term has largely fallen out of use and is now considered offensive and racist, it is still part of the American lexicon.


Walt Whitman’s 138th Dream…, 2008, mixed media on antique paper. Courtesy of ZieherSmith, NY

Wes Lang uses a lot of reference material in his work. He admits constantly buying books and looking at porn sites for pictures. He selects some images and draws them. There are a lot of skulls and naked girls involved, which are part of the biker’s traditional imagery. Text is also very important, he usually puts some song lyrics in his drawings. As Kate Wolf wrote in Dossier, “Lang’s work often contorts slogans of the late sixties and early seventies: bumper sticker-worthy irreverences, borrowed from recognizable political phrases from the 60s, are transformed into a grab-bag of advertising, drug culture, pornography, rock and roll lyrics and self-expression (“If it Feels Good Do it”). Lang couples these slogans with familiar imagery, much of it being reinterpretations of classic icons: a yellow happy face, Harley Davidson insignia, grim reaper, pot leaf, etc.”


The Well-Known Man (unframed), 2005, pencil on paper, engraved deer bone and unique frame.

Courtesy of ZieherSmith, NY

Wes Lang in conversation with David Coggins for Interview Magazine, December 2008
David Coggins: Have you turned to painting because you feel that you’ve gone as far as you could go with drawing?
Wes Lang: I go back and forth. Some of my drawings are pretty raw. There’s still an attention to detail in somehing that looks simple, but in fact is often harder than sitting there meticulously rendering something. I don’t think about it too much if something strikes me, I just do it.

DC: There’s a clear attraction to American history in your work. What interests you about America, and how does that come out in your work?
WL: I like to take American history and then completely ignore it. I come at it visually, taking images and telling my own story. It comes out of criticism and great love. There are problems (with America), and we all know that, but I’m attracted to the dark side of things. I did a bunch of blackface stuff a couple of years ago. That was a little touchy. I wasn’t doing it to piss people off. I was doing a work about Abraham Lincoln, and I came across these of little mammies. The images were striking and simple, and I was attracted to them.

DC: So you’re attracted to loaded imagery?
WL: I’m covered in it, personally. (indicates his tattoos of women, skulls, crosses, and Indians) I’ve always been a collector of weird imagery, even when I was little. There was no question what I wanted to do with myself, since I was very small.

DC: Do you think you’re challenging the audience when you raw a figure in blackface? Do you trust that they’ll know where you’re coming from?
WL: I’m taking it out of its context and putting it into my context and hoping that people can understand that I’m not glorifying this stuff.

DC: How do feel about being in the art world? Is it something that you enjoy or suffer through?
WL: I don’t hate it by any means. I get to do exactly what I want to do everyday day. I just try not to spend to much time in it. You have to be a part of it. You can’t just say “I’m the fucking shit”, and forget it. I definitely carry myself with an attitude though. I’m into bikes and that kind of shit. It helps me sometimes and hinders me other times. But I just want to work with people I trust.

DC: Do you have an official tattoo count?
WL: Just one, it’s easier that way.


The Taste of Life’s Sweet Wine…, 2008, mixed media on antique paper. Courtesy of ZieherSmith, NY

Born in 1972.
Lives and works in Brooklyn.
Began exhibiting in the late nineties.
favorite music: the Grateful Dead, old Snoop Dogg & Dr. Dre, Suicidal Tendencies, Wu-Tang, the Doors…
reading material of choice: Charles Bukowski
movies: Hells Angels Forever, The Departed, McCabe & Mrs. Miller
hobbies: motorcycle (he has a Harley Davidson chopper)
favorite tattoo: the skull on the palm of his left hand

watch Wes Lang in his studio:

art gallery:
ZieherSmith (New York)

Wes Lang & Donald Baechler, Skulls and Shit, Loyal, 2009
The Paradise Club, Artwork by Wes Lang, Eighth Veil, Los Angeles, 2009 (published  at the occasion of the show “Carry On” teamed with Ryan Schneider at Eighth Veil gallery, on view from 15 May to 20 June 2009)


The Moonshiner’s Other Dream, 2005, pencil, colored pencil, ink, gouache on paper, engraved deer bone and unique frame.

Courtesy of ZieherSmith, NY