Executed in 1999, Loopy is an exquisite and monumental ode to childhood and innocence that formed the central painting in Jeff Koons' Easyfun series. An apparently simple, photo-real painting of collaged elements amassed from childhood, as with all of Koons' greatest works, this painting operates on a number of different levels. Luring us in with its extraordinary paint handling and mesmerising blasts of colour and form, the psychological complexity of Loopy develops the message that Pablo Picasso first conveyed when he said, 'When I was a child I could draw like Raphael, but it took me a lifetime to draw like a child' (P. Picasso, quoted by H. Read in The Times, 26 October 1956). Here, Koons develops this notion into our experience of things and the associations we attach to them. The title of the series Easyfun, implies a simplicity of joy but this was a group of works that channeled the sensations and emotions of childhood, concentrating them, expanding them and presenting them in paintings and sculptures of hallucinatory intensity. In Loopy, this is clear from the presence of the Trix rabbit at the back, a figure from the cereal packs of the same name. In the foreground, a smiley face that echoes the rabbit's own manic grin has been formed from the floating orbs of the cereal itself, while the red nose is echoed in the gleaming cherry that is perched so pertly on a sumptuous mountain of whipped cream. To the left are the sweeping, colourful arabesques of a Hot Wheels stunt track, a perennial toy that has survived through several generations and is therefore all the more universal a trigger. This is an overpowering image of sensual sublimation, tapping into the intensity of childhood memories, exploring the vivid way that we experience the world when we are first exposed to it. Koons has banished any sense of taking the world for granted, instead presenting us with this rapturous vision of joy, of food, of play.
Koons' Easyfun series came after the lengthy process of creating his Celebration, which have remained in production to this day. The Celebration series consisted of paintings and sculptures that also explored and celebrated childhood experiences. Koons himself explained that they were intended in part as postcards to his son, who was taken by his mother, La Cicciolina, to Italy following the end of their marriage. When he began the Easyfun series in 1999, childhood was on Koons' mind for very different reasons: he had remarried, and had a young family again. Being a father and finding himself immersed in the world of childhood once more, Koons was able to appreciate the overwhelming power of the unique perspective we enjoy during youth and which is channelled so effectively in the visual feast of cereal, toys and cream of Loopy.
The perspective that a child has in viewing and experiencing the world was the perfect vehicle for Koons' continued explorations of ideas of taste and innocence. Children exist in a wonderful pre- Lapsarian condition, free of sin, as though they have never eaten from the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This concept was embodied in The New Jeff Koons, a portrait of the artist shown as a boy holding his Crayola crayons and a colouring book, created decades after the source photo had been taken. Koons was proclaiming himself innocent even then, and throughout his career has entreated his viewers to regain that state of innocence. He has used a wide variety of devices to encourage us to abandon our hangups, most famously in the Made in Heaven series which comprised a group of sculptures of Disney-like flowers alongside explicit images of the artist himself engaged in various sex acts. Reproduction, he was saying, is part of the cycle of life; it is nothing to be ashamed of. Children are the result, likewise a part of that cycle. Looking at Loopy, which was created a decade later, it is clear that that early juxtaposition of elements relating to sex and to childhood was to have a lasting impact on Koons' work and message.
In Loopy, it is clear that Koons has managed to convey an idea of the link he himself has discussed between the enjoyment of cereal and sexual gratification. This picture presents the accoutrements of childhood in such a gleamingly glorious way that, to adult eyes, they take on a certain fetishistic, erotic quality, be it in the sensual curlicues of the Hot Wheels track, the pristine, delicious temptation of the cream or the glistening cherry, itself such a suggestive device. Koons has deliberately blended the realms of childhood and adulthood, hoping to encourage his viewers to embrace their own tastes and peccadilloes, to escape the bounds of convention and the pointless diktats of society.
Loopy was first exhibited at Koons' 1999 exhibition Easyfun at the Sonnabend Gallery, New York. The Easyfun group originally comprised of a group of flat mirror-like silhouettes of animal heads and three paintings, of which Loopy was one, alongside Cut-Out and Hair. The series was later augmented by the addition of two new paintings, Saint Benedict and Pot Rack. As is clear from looking at Loopy, this series was assembled with an enthusiasm which appears to be echoed in the subject matter itself, resulting in a group of works that provide the artistic equivalent of a sugar-rush.
Filled with bold colour, this zany image appears to have adopted the visual language of advertising, to have invoked the consumerism that permeates so much of contemporary society and twisted it to a new use, allowing Koons to smuggle in a dialogue about life, childhood and sex. 'I wanted to make this painting a very aggressive, visual painting,' Koons explained of Loopy. 'I love Pop art, and I really want to play with aspects of Pop. So much of the world is advertising, and because of that, individuals feel that they have to present themselves as a package. The work gives them a sense that they really feel they are packaged, like this cherry' (J. Koons, 2000, quoted in D. Sylvester, op. cit,, 2002, pp. 333-34). Where the coloured sculptures in the Easyfun group were almost Minimalist in their presentation, the paintings feature a cornucopia of over-spilling detail, as is clear in Loopy.
The introduction of this contemporary collage technique in the Easyfun series has resulted a change in Koons' artistic practice: the techniques that he began to use when creating Loopy and its fellows has come to underpin all his subsequent paintings, be it in the subsequent Easyfun-Ethereal works or the more recent Popeye and Hulk Elvis. Like those later series, the paintings in Easyfun often contain visual references within the collage composition that recall earlier works by both Koons himself and by other artists. In Loopy this is especially the case: Koons himself has explained that the white dots recall the coloured circles sometimes employed in John Baldessari's works to obscure people's faces. Meanwhile, the looping colourful forms of the Hot Wheels track appears to mimic to some extent the gestural, drip paintings of the great Abstract Expressionist, Jackson Pollock. Here, though, they have been reincarnated in a crisp, gleaming, plastic form. Meanwhile, the use of the Trix bunny as a motif echoes the use of rabbits in Koons' own oeuvre, dating back to his 1979 Inflatable Flower and Bunny and its gleaming metal reincarnation in the Statuary series of 1986. Likewise, the large, asteroid-like pieces of cereal floating in a constellation like form of a smiley face recall the suspended basketballs of his Equilibrium series.
At the same time, the inclusion of the hovering, grinning balls of cereal heightens that sense of Koons' work serving as a support mechanism for the viewer. There is a subconscious image here, where the cereal bowls come together to form a smiley face but at what point in our experience do we recognize it? He has essentially taken those works from the adult world of art and rendered them as though viewed through a new, child-like prism. Koons has long felt that the idea of taste is too often twisted to segregate people, to pigeonhole and control them through culture. In Loopy, he has deliberately undermined the notion of 'High' art by colliding it against the nick-nacks, toys and cartoon characters of the so-called 'Low' art that he has so gleefully embraced, making this picture an exultant and even erotic incitement to revolt, guide to salvation and invitation to return to innocence.