Humor and truth through paint-by-numbers
The work of New York City-based artist Trey Speegle will be on display at Converge Gallery, 140 W. Fourth St., from March 1 to 29. The solo exhibition, entitled “Very Much So,” features work from Speegle’s “#withyou” ongoing collaborative series, the “Leave a Mark” series, and his “Abstract Bridge + Waterfall” series.
The exhibition’s opening will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. March 1 and Speegle will give an informational talk about the work at 8 p.m. While this won’t be Speegle’s first time visiting Williamsport, it will be his first time showing work here.
“My old gallery in New York was in the same building on West 24th Street where Converge was exhibiting in 2012,” he explained in an email interview. It was there that Speegle was approached by someone from Converge Gallery.
“I’ve visited before and am excited to come back and see a bit more of the city,” Speegle said.
Like Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper and Andy Warhol before him, Speegle spent time as a commercial artist. For more than 25 years he worked as art director and creative director for publications including Vogue, Vanity Fair, Us Weekly and Allure. Speegle’s commercial background shows in his work; his sophisticated color palettes, superimposed text and compositions are enough to make any graphic designer drool.
With prints of his work available on postcards, coffee mugs and posters – and all attainable through his website’s “RePop Shop” – the commercial side of the art world isn’t one that Speegle shies away from. “I think some people must consider my work ‘lesser than’ in some ways because it plays with the notion of ‘Pop’ and commercial art but I can’t really worry about that. I think there’s more to it than that but it’s hard to stand next to the work and defend it, impossible really. It has to speak for itself,” he explained.
The “#withyou” series features templates taken directly from Speegle’s extensive collection of vintage paint-by-number templates. The collection started when Speegle inherited 200 paint-by-number prints from the widow of friend and former head writer at Saturday Night Live, Michael O’Donoghue.
“I redraw the line work, print it on canvas with a new numbering system, create a new palette and black out the words to paint in the background. It’s an involved process and the end result is anything but vintage,” Speegle said of his process and its results. Work from the “Make a Mark” series features silo horses and enlarged details from the artist’s paint-by-number collection. The “Abstract Bridge + Waterfall” series features the linework from the same paint-by-number template of a rural landscape layered onto paintings based on abstract work from the 1950s.
The play between word and image in Speegle’s work conjures up comparisons to artists like Saul Steinberg and Wayne White. Comparisons aside, art historians would be hard-pressed to find the first artist to place text over or within a picture. The risk contemporary artists face, however, is appearing snarky, ironic, even condescending. Speegle’s work seems generally optimistic and playful – he’s a widely collected and represented painter who uses paint-by-number templates, for crying out loud.
“I think I am optimistic. Occasionally, a phrase sticks with me that is a bit snarky or funny but it’s usually based in something I’m trying to say. My show ‘It’s Not About You’ can be interpreted as snarky but every painting in the show had the word ‘you’ in it and I was thinking how selfish making art can seem, so it was turning it back on the viewer,” he said.
If anything, Speegle said his hope for his most current body of work was to “include people in the work and make it fun,” adding “I think people can appreciate work more if they start to look at what it is they like and don’t like. Hopefully, this show is accessible and fun and maybe someone will get inspired. That would be nice but I’m going to have fun, no matter what.”
Learn more about Trey Speegle and his work at www.treyspeegle.com or find him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. For more information on Converge Gallery, visit www.convergegallery.com or call 570-435-7080.