"The paintings of Geppetto's table are images of candle light in the empty space where the woodworker crafts his visions. Dans intensive study of that image is an ode to that place. From that place Dan has found, in his restlessness, a great deal to say about what it means to make something." -Matt Kenny
Executed in 2005, Dan Colen's Boo Fuck'n Hoo is an exquisitely-rendered painting based on a timeless animation still from Walt Disney's beloved 1940 feature film Pinocchio. In his immaculate reproduction of a scene from the toymaker Geppetto's workshop, Colen has added his own laconic twist, manipulating the curling wisps of smoke from the extinguished candle to form the barely-visible words of his provocative title. The work stems from the renowned series of eleven works that Colen produced between 2003 and 2009, each derived from the same source image, yet subtly differentiated through the artist's ghostly inscriptions. The series, under the title Out of the Blue, was exhibited at Gagosian Gallery in New York in 2010, and has come to occupy a central position within the diverse oeuvre that had brought Colen to public acclaim several years earlier. Marrying his own urban poeticism with Disney's classic image, Colen's cynical retort "boo fuck'n hoo" is undercut by his painstakingly devoted homage to the original image of Geppetto's workbench. Acutely attentive to every level of detail, from the dripping formations of viscous candle wax to the individual fibers of the feather quill, Colen's painting attempts to replicate the magical aura of this hallowed scene. Quoting an image that depicts the birthplace of the toymaker's enchanted puppet, it is a work that speaks of making, of creating and of crafting. In so doing, Colen's painting honors the patience and vision of the pioneering hand-drawn artwork showcased in Disney's second-ever feature-length animation.
Colen first rose to prominence as part of a recent generation of artists informally known as the "Bowery School," a grouping that developed around New York's Lower East Side including figures such as Nate Lowman, Aaron Young and Dash Snow. Deploying a vast array of media in works that span painting, sculpture and installation, Colen uses hyperrealism and illusionism in order to explore questions of authenticity, originality and representation. Standing in stark contrast to his quasi-Abstract Expressionist chewing gum paintings and his totemic graffitied rocks, the Out of the Blue works have a more direct lineage in the trompe l'oeil paintings he created in his grandfather's abandoned antique shop on Coney Island, or indeed the "found" classical paintings he deliberately vandalized with contemporary images and slogans. Yet, unlike the generic originals he commandeered for these works, the source image for the present series is something that holds a deeper significance for Colen. The artist found the drawing in the seminal animation volume The Illusion of Life, a tome-like compendium of Disney images. Whilst making the first painting Hello Colen recalled, "I got the image that I was working off of so dirty making this one...so I ordered another book. And then it came and it was a different color. And then I kind of liked how they were different, you know, and so then I started ordering all the different books and I noticed...there were a lot of different editions, they started printing them in the '50s and they were still printing them in the '90s," (D. Colen discussing Out of the Blue, 2010, http://vimeo.com/17699231 [accessed March 26, 2014]). Colen's eleven works are thus defined by varying gradations of tone and resolution, in line with the different versions of the book collected by the artist over the years. The Illusion of Life has become a cornerstone of sorts within Colen's oeuvre, prompting further Disney-inspired works including the recent Miracle Paintings, and ultimately forming the title of his solo exhibition last autumn at Inverleith House in Edinburgh.
Recalling the haunting photorealism of Gerhard Richter's own series of candle paintings, Colen imbues the present work with the same quality of gradual revelation through his nuanced application of paint. Emerging from the dark cavernous void, Colen's translucent words slowly become legible to the viewer, hanging like a misty shroud above the peaceful scene. Indeed, the title of the 2010 Gagosian show Out of the Blue refers to the Neil Young songs, "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" and "My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)", with the famous like "it's better to burn out than to fade away." Young was responding to the then-recent deaths of Elvis Presley and Sid Vicious, as well as to his own personal fears of obsolescence and decay.
In Colen's series, words ranging from "hello" to "no way jose" take shape in the frozen time-warp created by his repetition of an isolated split-second motion picture frame. Both startling and elegiac, these works prompted Neville Wakefield, writing in the Out of the Blue catalogue, to suggest an interpretation that invokes the very dawn of creation itself. "If we are to take Genesis as the most reliable godly codex of not just our creation but creation in general," he writes, "light came first. But, while this version has God busy dividing light from darkness, later newer testaments claim that in the beginning was the word. Language, it might reasonably assumed was forged of darkness, or put another way, appropriate to these works, came out of the blue. Either way, it was language and light that penetrated the recesses of the inchoate void from which heaven and earth were formed," (N. Wakefield, "Holy Crap and Transcendental Stupidity", in Dan Colen: Out of the Blue, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2010).