Youthful Convulsions and the Confines of Rigid Patriarchy
written by Bryan Robertson
Wasted Youth, Scream it Back, oil on canvas, 36” x 48”, 2016
St. Louis artist Jordan McGirk takes visual cues straight from the Baroque masters, often quoting them directly and presenting the viewer with tumultuous knots of figures expelled straight from heaven. In McGirk’s recent work the convulsive energy of Reubens gives an overall impression of emotion and drama. In “Wasted Youth, Scream It Back,” an asymmetrical balance creates a dizzying motion moving the viewer past encrypted symbols and colors that illuminate contemporary societal struggles.
It is easy to trace the influence of these Northern European painters straight to contemporary masters like Willem de Kooning and Anselm Kiefer. In particular, the mental chaos of de Kooning’s Woman series is evident in his work. Where de Kooning focuses on the female figure as the nexus of inner conflict, McGirk turns masculine angst into creatures of conformity to popular culture. One can also see in McGirk’s work Kiefer’s ability to blend irony with social commentary and the revelation of art’s ability to question accepted conventions.
These works are classic oil on canvas created with a hyper-saturated palette that treats color like musical notes. In “Wasted Youth, Scream It Back,” McGirk depicts a giant lime green arm holding a microphone that extends diagonally from the left corner to the center-right position. This visual pathway leads the eye past a brain-like form and into the tips of four neon yellow fingers, which frame the gaze of a malcontent figure slowly desaturating in color as he fades into the background. Overall, the painting posses a swirling sensation as greens and pinks vibrate against one another and conspire to move the eye rapidly from corner to corner. The viewer always returns to the lime green figure who projects an almost raw sense of power as it looks down upon his crowd, a mosh-pit of interconnected bodies.
The Apotheosis of the Pit/ Bareknuckle Prayers, oil on canvas, 36” x 48”, 2016
McGirk’s current body of work originates from the feelings and ideas of American hardcore and metal music. McGirk says, “these music communities were some of the first who welcomed in my dissatisfaction with banality, acknowledged my feelings of forgottenness, and fed my desire to grandstand. But, despite all their deconstructive insights, I also see how these rebellious expressions follow the same conventions that they push against—an obsession with top-down power, a thirst for companionship based on unhealthy models of love, hegemonic worldviews, and a tendency to scream instead of listen.” These themes are woven into McGirk’s work and find greater importance through a confrontation with his unconscious role in perpetrating injustices.
McGirk uses rock stars and their adoring fans to illuminate and call out some of the disguised dysfunctions of middle America. Ultimately, these paintings feel like investigations into themes of cultural myth-building, mini-epic narratives that peel back the facade of hypermasculinity and violence. The depiction of McGirk’s rockers as inflatable, boneless, amoebic creatures present us with a paradigm shift in social and personal identity construction, one that owns up to our fragility and reimagines the confines of rigid patriarchy.