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Exhibition Catalog Design, Stephen Case

   Marilyn - Amazing (detail)


Since the advent of the televsion age at mid-century, the American political process has become increasingly identified with the entertainment industry. This trend reached its apex during the Reagan years when distinctions between politics and entertainment were irrevocably blurred. In the 1980's the packaging and selling of political candidates on television evolved into a variation of the old Hollywood super-star promotional formula which predates the televsion era. The 1992 presidential campaign which we have just witnessed went a step further, mixing politics with a fictitious sitcom in the overblown Dan Quayle-Murphy Brown flap.

Less politicized was Hollywood's "golden age" extending from the 1920's through the 1950's. It was during the decade of the 1950's, when television eclipsed motion pictures in the nation's collective unconscious, that the stage was set for the marriage of Hollywood and politics in future decades. Reginald Case was born midway through the film capital's great creative period and his art of the past twelve years has concentrated on the myth and folklore of Hollywood archtypes. Beginning with Rudolph Valentino from the 1920's through the 1930's with Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Jean Harlow and Buck Rogers, and into the 1940's with Betty Grable and Humphrey Bogart, Case culminates his epic body of work with a remarkable series of objects that focus on the supreme Hollywood love goddess of the 1950's, Marilyn Monroe. Case makes one exception to his time frame with three contemporary works of Madonna that reflect the glamour of an earlier era.

As a boy growing up in Watertown in upstate New York, Case was a frequent visitor to the town's six movie theaters where he viewed such films in the early 1940's as Bambi, Lassie Come Home, and Meet Me in St. Louis. His love of the films was matched by fascination with the architectural grandeur of the movie palaces and with the attendant promotional art in Life, Look, and The New York Times. His 1980's-90's work in assemblage, collage, and construction is a fusion of early influences in film, photography, and architecture. The dazzling works unite theme and materials and represent a significant advance over the random and unfocused appropriation of film matter by Andy Warhol and other Pop artists in the 1960's and 1970's.

Case received a strong training in art at the State University of New York, Buffalo, San Francisco State University, and Boston University where he studied with Peter Busa, Walter Murch, and Robert Gwathmey. After receiving his MFA from Boston University he taught at Phillips Exeter Academy and Norfolk State College. At this time, he completed a series of large still-life paintings which extended the imagery of Giorgio Morandi by elongating vessels and vases; transforming them into architectonic towers. Since it was not possible to include everything he wished in these still-lifes, Case began to use photographic images in collages. Marcel Duchamp legitimized for Case the borrowing and incorporation of others' art into his own work. References, both direct and indirect, to Surrealist masters Rene Magritte, Joseph Cornell and John Graham are evident in these imaginative reinterpretations.

In the early 1970's Case began to utilize American folk art imagery in his collages, which overlapped with the surrealist sources. Case was moving further away from conventional approaches to collage, gradually adding other materials to photographs such as fabric trimming and light-reflecting mylar paper. This process led to an affirmation of an art of inclusion rather than exclusion with more complex architectural construction which emphasized the balance and organization of classical forms. Likewise, his range of materials expanded to incorporate borders and fringes of fabric, sequins, glitter, feathers, gold-braid, marbles, balls, bells, rods, mylar stars, beads, jewelry and electric lights. His elaborately decorated surfaces of varying colors raise the often garish materials into the realm of high art. The bright and sparkling elements are given solidity by their strategic architectonic placement and juxtaposition with pilasters, pediments, and colonnades.

Case's American folk art imagery of flags, stars, dolls, family trees, and stencils expanded in the late 1970's to include themes from the circus and the American West such as Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley. In 1980 these motifs metamorphosed into New York, his first work based on Hollywood subject matter. Case's preoccupation with the American iconization of celebrity found its perfect vehicle in the Hollywood star system. The ironic implications of these universal symbols, simultaneously opulent and artificial is at the heart of Case's work. The overall strong patterning of his elaborate and sensuous surfaces eliminates any possibility of empty space in the same way that the blank silver screen must constantly be filled with moving images. The use of glamorous photographs from popular magazines which the artist encases in monumental and emotionally charged settings is analagous to the framing of sacred relics in bejewelled Byzantine settings. Both share the same aesthetic underpinnings grounded in the formal, theatrical organization of the composition. The marvelous silver screen icons of film goddesses which emanate from Case's studio high above the Hudson River in Peekskill are unsurpassed in their devotion to the uniquely American imagery of Hollywood's popular culture.

Robert Metzger, Director,
The Reading Museum

Marilyn - Rockefeller Center Dream
1991, Assemblage, 16" x 25"

Marilyn - Greeting
1992, Assemblage, 20" x 17"

Marilyn - Tropical
1992, Assemblage, 18" x 20"

Marilyn - Crimson
1992, Assemblage, 17" x 20"

Marilyn - Hot Pink
1992, Assemblage, 15" x 14"

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