'Symptom of the Universe' explores art-making in the internet age

Andy Downing
Brooke Zamudio (left) and Jake Mensinger

Brooke Zamudio and Jake Mensinger didn’t know one another prior to being paired for a duo show at 934 Gallery, and the fast-approaching deadline pushed the pair’s initial conversation far beyond the typical get-to-know-you fare.

“We had a meeting and what did we even talk about? Dissociation of body parts and the Old Masters and wondering if they would be disappointed in us today,” said Zamudio, who joined Mensinger for a late December interview at 934. The pair’s show, “Symptom of the Universe,” opens at the Milo-Grogan gallery on Friday, Jan. 3.

“We were talking a lot about what painting in the internet age is like,” Mensinger said. “And just how the computer is affecting what happens in traditional media. We’re both kind of sorting that out in our own work, trying to figure out how we feel about it, how to exist.”

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This conversation continues in the surrealist works gracing the walls of 934 in “Symptom,” with oil paintings that contrast skulls — common to Old Master still lifes and often signifying death — with decidedly modern, computer age touches, such as the smiley face emoji that surfaces in a handful of Zamudio’s pieces, its presence suggestive of both immortality and a shiny, American ideal. The figure of wrestler Hulk Hogan serves as a similar flashpoint in a different painting by Mensinger, his neon yellow, tear-away shirt practically beaming from the center of the canvas, the contrast heightened by the muted surrounding tones.

“[Hogan’s] color palette is primary: red, yellow, blue. Everything else is a secondary color palette, the idea being those secondary colors, you have to muddy them up to create them, where the primary colors would be perfect,” Mensinger said. “It’s about this American idealism. It’s about picking out someone as your savior, your moralistic hero who you’re going to put all of this faith in.”

Both artists employ a similar creative process, marking a blank canvas and stepping back to see what kind of image takes shape. For Mensinger, this generally means painting Pollock-like splatter patterns, while Zamudio dabs a canvas with orange paint, which she’ll then stare at for hours until an image starts to take shape, a process she compared with decoding a Magic Eye poster.

“So I’m just looking at this canvas and sort of dreaming into it when I’m awake,” Zamudio said. “When people go in those sensory deprivation tanks, they might get funny images, like Elvis or Mickey Mouse, that come forward. I try to let whatever that is, whether its sphinxes or whatever, come out [when I’m looking at a canvas]. I’m trying to be more permissive. If I see a dumb dog face scrawled on a [painting], ‘OK, fine.’ I try to roll with it, even if it seems weird.”

For both artists, the internet serves as a reference point and a form of inspiration throughout this discovery process. If Zamudio begins to envision a sphinx on the canvas, for example, she can instantly pull up hundreds of digital images from which to draw inspiration. Both also work in Photoshop early on, too, utilizing the program to plot out a canvas before committing to it in oils—an influence that can exhibit itself in everything down to the color palette deployed in the final work.

“With this one, I wanted to use bright, highlighter colors,” Mensinger said, gesturing to the Hogan painting. “That’s more of a recent thing artists are doing, especially with the internet, since we’re looking at monitors and we can see these super saturated, bright colors.”

“I’m interested in your color journey, too, because I’ve gone through something similar,” Zamudio said. “I go between slightly muted [tones] and really bright, and I think the internet and computer screens influenced that. … We’ve both come through the internet and algorithms, and it’s a weird experience to try and [balance] that experience with wanting to be in conversation with paintings done from 1400 through today. That’s a problem I think we both have in common.”

934 Gallery

Opening 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 3

934 Cleveland Ave., Milo-Grogan


“Symptom of the Universe”