Mark Whalen’s practice is a meandering, lustrous muse of the everyday. His slick, deliberate and playful work offers lively insights into the universal experience of life’s daily tangles
Whalen’s solo show in 2019 Ramble Ramble at Over the Influence in Los Angeles, saw an illustrious collection of works with bright sumptuous surfaces and metallic finishes juxtaposed against cool, stark concrete plinths. With a thorough and sensitive hand, Whalen seamlessly combines sculpture and painting as if there is no distinction between the two. His wall works depict expressive faces painted with deft precision and simplicity that are enveloped between swollen cartoon-like hands and rougher 3D surfaces. Working in cast aluminum, the works embody a freedom and independence of materiality that “interrupts space” and confronts the viewer with immediate and unignorable physicality.
Dotted throughout the exhibition, as if a serendipitous discovery on a relaxed Sunday stroll, are Whalen’s trademark totemic sculptures. Stacking remnants of studio materials, colourful human-like faces and familiar household objects, the works’ seductive textures and saturated hues encompass both the ordinary and the absurd. Teasing the senses, the contemporary totems appear to defy gravity and convert the soft creases of a foam block or paper bag into solid, immovable sculptural forms. Attending to the fleeting transience of often neglected household objects, Whalen transforms the eb and flow of daily life into sharp, polished and exquisitely playful works of art.
The human figure is a central symbol in Whalen’s work. Throughout his oeuvre, faces appear estranged from the rest of their bodies, constrained by obtrusive objects as well as poked and prodded by anonymous floating hands. With almost theatrical expressions and gestures, the incomplete figures have a uniformity that suggests the representation of one overall character or creative archetype. This character is not a representation of a single consistent figure, or indeed the artist himself, but instead serves as an avatar that encompasses the shared emotional spectrum of human experience. Frozen in their sculptural form, Whalen’s figures represent the familiar limitations, endless diversity and humble wonders of the human condition.