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Happy Miserable: Looks Good in Black

Happy Miserable: Looks Good in Black

Les Newman

March 15 – April 11, 2003

Opening Reception: Saturday, March 15, 7:00 pm



Popular culture has a definite authority about it. Our most basic thoughts and feelings are often illustrated (and embellished) in pop songs, movies and television shows, so that it is almost impossible to disregard them entirely. Science has authority about it as well, but here it is not something that we “feel to be true”, but rather something that is proven to us, through measure and fact.

Les Newman’s science series marries pop culture and science in a way that suggests the limitations of both. His flow charts, bar graphs, and atomic structures are not of complex processes, but of benign, banal situations illustrated by lyrics and phrases from popular culture. Newman plays with the tropes of science while infusing them with a derisive irony, detailing the ideas that we at once add to and absorb in bar graphs, flow charts and atomic structures.

Newman’s process of creating the prints is as much a comment on the regurgitation of popular ideas as the work itself. He begins by creating the drawing on a computer, using only the simplest “draw” and “Graph” programs in WordPerfect. He then take photographs of the computer screen and makes a 4″x 6″ inch print from that negative. The image is scanned back into the computer, cleaned up, enlarged, and finally out-put and printed. The finished product is a pixelated, low-resolution ghost of the original image – much like a game of “telephone” distorts and mutilates the meaning of phrases.

This distortion of images relates also to the distortion of words or ideas that occur when they travel through many different channels before reaching their final source. The course of events can be drastically altered by the mere misconstruction of a few phrases. Newman studies these simple tragedies with a deliberately ironic approach. The work serves to illustrate the banality and truth behind our daily traumas and angst – from the perspective of a detached observer. And as they illustrate, any attempt to quantify, chart or measure the feelings experienced in these situations renders them absurd.

Newman deliberately uses only the simplest, most basic functions of the computer to produce his work. The result of this process is much like a homemade science experiment – contrived “low science”. By deliberately complicating and sabotaging his work process, Newman is playing at being a scientist of sorts – a researcher, an experimenter who has not yet discovered a different process. This, too, relates to the idea of the banal traumas – perhaps our trauma is contrived – perhaps the situations could be simpler and less painful than the paths we select. Sometimes, the paths we choose to follow are deliberately difficult – it is through his work process that Newman reinforces this idea.

Anna Scott