Joel Mesler was born in 1974 in Los Angeles, graduated from Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, California, and received his MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1999. Subsequently, he worked as an artist and art dealer in Los Angeles and New York for two decades - he opened his first gallery in Los Angeles’s Chinatown and he became an early supporter of renowned artists including Henry Taylor and Rashid Johnson. While Mesler began painting in the early 2000s and continued throughout the decade, it was not until the mid-2010s that he committed to his practice. In 2014, during a difficult personal period, the artist returned to drawing and painting - the practice representing a form of therapy. From this point, Mesler focused on honing his singular artistic voice, palette, and style.
Mesler’s pictorialism combines techniques gained throughout his career. He studied lithography as a student and initially worked professionally as a printmaker. This background informs Mesler’s practice of hand-dyeing his linen canvases, allowing him to achieve a distinctive saturation and gradation of color in many of his works. Events in the artist’s life, both joys and personal traumas, form his greatest artistic inspiration. The motifs he employs recall his youth in 1980’s Los Angeles, such as the patterned banana leaf wallpaper of the Beverly Hills Hotel, swimming pools, beach balls, balloons, disco balls, and donuts. While calling to mind diverse influences, from the jungles of Henri Rousseau to forms found in 20th- century decorative arts - Mesler’s canvases offer a wry, vulnerable examination of the place where personal and popular iconography convene. His visually polished works undergird his connection to the legacy of Pop art, while his use of text places him in a lineage of artists including Ed Ruscha and Christopher Wool. His paintings have been the subject of solo exhibitions at LGDR, Palm Beach and London (2022); Lévy Gorvy, Hong Kong (2021); David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles (2021); Harper’s Books, New York (2020); and Simon Lee, London (2018). Mesler lives and works in East Hampton, New York.
This exhibition, held at Long Museum (West Bund), is therefore a much anticipated one. Characterized by bold colors, stylized patterns, bright figuration, and unique calligraphic scripts, it will reveal aspects of Joel Mesler’s personal and artistic growth, allowing viewers to evolve alongside the artist as they travel through the exhibition space. In tracing Mesler’s painterly practice, the exhibition will feature formative examples of his iconic text and image paintings, including Untitled (Half Full Half Empty) (2020) - the earliest work in the presentation and a visual manifestation of the well-known idiom. Like the American artist Harold Edgerton’s renowned Milk Drop Coronet (1957), the canvas captures liquid in motion - here, splashing in a glass - with contrasting yellow and red straws representing the juxtaposition of optimistic and pessimistic mindsets. The work finds parallel in Untitled (On the Rocks) (2021), which presents a drink-laden tumbler and alludes to the joys and intrigues of nightlife, along with paintings like Untitled (Celebration) (2021). The duality of light and dark, dusk and dawn, have long engaged the artist. Canvases such as Untitled (Sunrise Sunset) (2021) and Untitled (We Are the World) (2022) portray the positivity and rebirth that attend each new day.
The exhibition will bring together for the first time Mesler’s large-scale triptychs, including Untitled (The World Is Yours) (2020), Untitled (You Are Never Alone), and Untitled (In the Beginning) (both 2021). Featuring the artist’s imagined environments - lush jungles and aqueous pools among them - the triptychs constitute Mesler’s most defining, expansive, and unrestrained pictorial works, and represent a culmination of his series. On view alongside these canvases will be paintings from his recent camouflage series. In these works, patterns in lush palettes serve as backdrops for expressions of mental states and elements of the subconscious, portrayed in Mesler’s singular fonts, including Untitled (Identity Crisis), Untitled (Well Being), Untitled (Stress Test), and Untitled (Safe Space) (all 2022). Emphasizing his link to American Pop art, a new series debuting at the Long Museum will comprise the stacked vertical display of twenty canvases of text against Mesler’s banana leaf pattern, adopted from childhood memories of the wallpaper at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles. Picturing words that Mesler views as “meditations” including “spirit,” “wise,” “light,” and “love”, the panels will be shown on one wall, making reference to Andy Warhol’s gridded portraits of the 1960s. Much of Mesler’s inspiration over the past years has derived from his self-proclaimed “journey of presentness,” a mentality of appreciating the present moment and living by the mantra, “one day at a time.” The companion paintings Untitled (Spiritual Healing) and Untitled (Spiritual Awakening) (both 2022) speak to this quest. Personal and emotive, a new work Untitled (Hugs) (2022) pictures letters as gold metallic balloons floating amidst a host of playful and vibrant motifs. Here, Mesler’s pursuit of inner peace and self-discovery culminates in the large-scale triptych, Untitled (Spiritual Journey) (2022), which shares its title with the exhibition. For Mesler, the painting, which is notably devoid of text, is a manifestation of his realization that “Life is about the journey and the process. It is not about the destination.” With this exhibition, the artist shares his insights toward self-actualization with viewers through painted tableaux that encourage self-knowledge, reflection, and imagination.