Horatio Hung-Yan Law:
War Candies/Just Desserts?
Main Gallery, University of Texas at El Paso
Stephanie L. Taylor
While the images included in Horatio Hung-Yan Law’s sweet suite of inkjet prints are often unpleasant, his use of scanned candies as a tool of reproduction seamlessly fits America’s yen for sugar-coating just about everything, including images from the nightly news. Some of Law’s prints represent familiar faces of the ongoing war in Iraq: Colin Powell speaking at a press conference, George W. Bush standing behind the presidential podium, Pvt. Jessica Lynch smiling from beneath her camouflage cap. Others capture the physical realities, or the brutal results, of the war: an army vehicle near an explosion, a corpse with a slashed throat, a soldier placing the American flag atop the soon-to-be-toppled statue of Saddam Hussein.
Law uses scanned images of candies—Lifesavers, jelly beans, and Skittles—to build saccharine views of these gruesome scenes. Chuck Close and, earlier, Georges Seurat, used just such a pixilated approach to imagery, and part of the fun of War Candies/Just Desserts? is observing a similar shift from legible to illegible as one approaches and retreats from the work. The scanned candies seem lighter than air; a slight shadow beneath each form makes them float above the surface of the paper on which they are printed. These highly processed confections have been processed yet again, this time rendered through Law’s computer-based manipulations, thus connecting their mass production to the artist’s process (over five thousand jelly bean images are arranged in the loose grid of Candyman Colin, for example). All are linked to the massive wave of media frenzy that has come to define the act of war in the twenty-first century.
Horatio Hung-Yan Law, Candyman Colin, 2003
40 x 32 inches
Law’s art offers a bevy of references. It conjures memories of Ronald Reagan’s predilection for jelly beans, not to mention Bill Clinton’s fondness for jelly doughnuts. It also speaks to the increasing rate of obesity in the United States. The scanned candies point out a connection between the American public’s appetite for both fast food and sound bites: we want everything predigested so we don’t have to work too hard at nourishing our bodies, let alone our minds.
This isn’t the first time Law, a Hong Kong-born and naturalized American, has worked with food imagery. In the past, he combined found objects such as Chinatown tchotchkes of laboring peasants and elegant ladies with grains of rice obsessively applied in convincing renditions of animal pelts. However, while Law’s early work literally bristles with references to politics, racial identity and devastating stereotypes, his current work seems limited to a simpler, singular message: America is addicted to both mediated imagery and empty calories.
I am reminded of Claes Oldenburg’s document from his 1961 Store Days performance, his “I am for…” manifesto that celebrated everything from “Grade A Art” to “art that a kid licks while peeling away the wrapper.” Oldenburg, following the Pop Art dictates of celebrating America as a literal and metaphorical land of plenty, acts as a strong advocate for connecting the prosaic to the profound. He seeks to create art that, as he put it, does something other than “sit on its ass in a museum.” Law’s current work never rises to stretch its legs, and as a result it never stretches the viewer’s imagination or beliefs either. The imagery he seeks to sweeten is too awful, the message he seeks to transmit too simple and the layers of ideas that characterized his work in the past are missing from these flat (in all senses of the word) works.
Horatio Hung-Yan Law, War Candy 12, 2003
40 x 32 inches
Horatio Hung-Yan Law, War Candy 20, 2003
40 x 32 inches