Welcome to Dan's World, where award-winning Bayonne journalist Daniel Israel reviews and reports on the current art exhibitions at the Dollhaus II gallery.
ON DISPLAY NOW:
"Isolated Landscape Portraiture"
by The Paint Splatterer
Story and Photos by Daniel Israel
"Isolated Landscape Portaiture," an exhibition by The Paint Splatterer from East London, is currently on display at the Dollhaus II art gallery at 23 Cottage Street in Bayonne, New Jersey. The exhibition kicked on May 19 with a lavish opening by owner and curator Emma Louise to much fanfare by curious guests and excited attendees, featuring complimentary refreshments and exhibition-themed cupcakes by artist and baketress Bee Heim, DJ Orchard Dwee playing ambient tunes, and gallery mascot Iggy Berlin dressed to the nines in an outfit complementing the art.
Many locals and out-of-towners alike gathered to view, discuss, and enjoy the art by The Paint Splatterer, whose identity remains a mystery. They started the work present in this exhibition during the dark, dreary, and foreboding virus outbreak that was the COVID-19 pandemic.
With New Jersey undergoing a stay-at-home order within weeks of the virus onset, The Paint Spatterer began working on these pieces years ago. Emma Louise had previously converted her gallery to a studio for herself during the pandemic, and has since resurrected that as a space for The Paint Splatterer to display some of those works started in COVID-19 as they complete them and others during the ongoing show. They said the paintings evoke the feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, and existential dread many felt while shut in their homes in the early months of the pandemic.
“I was making portraits of the way people were feeling in the pandemic,” The Paint Splatterer said. “That’s how it kind of came about. I wanted to do portraits of what the pandemic looked like to me via paint.”
According to The Paint Splatterer, they are continuing to work on some of the paintings on display because they felt some weren’t fully finished. There are also some new pieces they are working on that are hung in the gallery now and will join the rest of the collection when finished.
“I was never really happy with the way that they were, and I knew that they weren’t finished, and I knew that they needed to be extended, and I didn’t know how that looked," The Paint Splatterer said. "So I literally, since you know April of 2020, I hammered away at them and brought in another 10 huge canvases. I’m slowly starting to work on them and join them up to the original. It really came across as a really nice blend of those two.”
The teethy and fantastical worlds illustrated in the paintings evoke that creeping feeling of isolation, loneliness, and not knowing what the future holds that many of can attest to feeling during the stay-at-home era due to the virus. The Paint Splatterer, in continuing to flesh out the paintings, not only further develops the sense of uneasiness and darkness with a tinge of whimsy but also connects them with the new paintings by continuing the background world from piece to piece.
Eight of the works on display in the Paint Spaltterer's second exhibition at the Dollhaus II are new pieces. Of the total 17 paintings, the remaining 9 date back to the pandemic.
“When I first showed the portraits then, a lot has changed,” The Paint Splatterer said. “So this time, I’m showing them more on the progress that they’ve changed. They were very raw... And now they’re becoming more like how I envisioned them to be.”
In addition to completing the old paintings and adding new ones, gallery owner and curator Emma Louise has also added new mannequins to the gallery to accompany The Paint Splatterer's work. Their unique facial features and body shapes make the uncanny valley look like a ditch.
“The mannequins are my thing,” Emma Louise said. “They always have to show up. But the old mannequins weren’t working for me. So I did some deep diving and found some very unusual mannequins.”
The new mannequins are twisted in exotic poses with somewhat disturbing faces. Emma Louise said she went on a hunt to find these specifics mannequins since 2020 after seeing their unique vibe online, although it proved difficult considering the kind she wanted was often sold out.
“I found it really fascinating that these mannequins were the ones that sold out the most,” she said. “So I had to hunt the whole of the U.S.A. and at one point it was like I need to get some now that shipping is up in China.”
Emma Louise had an eye on one particular mannequin with weird poses and bizarre facial expressions, called the “Madonna.” However, it was sold out everywhere and only available to be shipped from China after some months.
So Emma Louise worked with what she could find locally, venturing to Brooklyn to find these mannequins. Interspersed with them are child mannequins with equally insane faces and poses.
“Maybe a couple of them you could see in a department store, but the ones that I chose, they have particularly strange faces," Emma Louise said. "All the faces are quite disturbing. Throw them in with the paintings and it becomes a whole different thing.”
The exhibition is on display until August 27. That is officially when the paintings will be finished, The Paint Splatterer said, and they will continue to be at the gallery on the weekends to work on them while guests can come by and view the art.
“Over the last four years, the Dollhaus II has had monthly shows,” Emma Louise said. “Then, as of last year, I started to change it up and not have so much intense shows every month. It comes to a point where I am in the middle of no where. Doing a big grand monthly show was taking its toll on me, and plus it was bothering me that I was working on my own stuff in the back rooms and in between installations. That’s a hard way to work.”
According to Emma Louise, the summer of 2022 was slow for Dollhaus II. As such, she has adjusted her schedule this year to be in tune with when people come out to see the art exhibitions.
“Last summer was not packed with people coming out to be able to see the works,” Emma Louise said. “I was like, you know what, this is a good time that I can make the gallery a studio and have a break of showcasing new artists every month. So it has become an active studio for The Paint Splatterer for three months.”
The gallery hours are similar to past exhibitions but not as intense. That includes Friday from 5 to 9 p.m., Saturday from 2 to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m.
“It’s a great show,” Emma Louise said. “With these mannequins, I just think it’s very colorful and quite dark and strange. It’s like a painting installation. It’s interesting how the portraits have now developed into a whole world of what came out quite a tramautic time. I think it’s quite exciting and impressive and they will all be changing and becoming developed over the three months.”
Up next, following this exhibition will be another by local artist SlaughterDK. Emma Louise said they are aiming for a show by him around October or November. Stay on the look out for more information about upcoming shows at the Dollhaus II.
Joe Waks's first solo show at the Dollhaus II
Story and Photos by Daniel Israel
The first solo exhibition by “Neo-Socio Absurdist” artist Joe Waks is now on display at the Dollhaus II art gallery at 23 Cottage Street in Bayonne. The exhibition opened with a reception on March 3.
Waks is a Bayonne native and a painter, dubbed “The Stippler” by Dollhaus II. He lives in the city with his wife Nancy, their dogs Buster, Ty, Bayonne, and Maxine, and their cat Kitten Waks.
Many attendees packed into the gallery to see Waks newest works. Masks were optional, but encouraged.
Souvenirs were on sale at the show, featuring a Waks-themed beer cup available for $5 and whiskey tumblers for sale for $10. In addition to that, there were stickers for $1 and tote bags for $15 as well as the usual Dollhaus II merchandise.
In an interview with award-winning journalist Daniel Israel after the show opening, Waks said he has been involved with art and painting since as long as he can remember. He has long been inspired by history and the newspapers of yesteryear.
“I was always doing art as a kid,” Waks said. “When I was a kid, my mom would drop me off at the library. I’d go get on the microfilm or microfiche and start looking at old newspapers and pulled ads and stuff like that. I’ve still been doing that.”
Waks’ fascination with the arts continued into adolescence. However, he went to college for anthropology, opting to continue his art career as a hobby.
“I wanted to go to art school when I was getting out of high school,” Waks said. “My parents didn’t really think it was a great idea. So I went to a liberal arts college for undergrad, and I was an anthropology major. Not exactly super practical either.”
Waks found work for a couple of years as an anthropologist and later went on to go back to college for law school. However, while he was taking college courses for both anthropology and law, he was also still taking art classes.
“I took a couple of elective painting classes and really had a great professor. He basically put the brush in my hands to go knock yourself out. So I started painting a lot in college. Throughout law school and after I was just kind of doing it. It was more like a hobby.”
That arrangement worked fine for Waks until about 2006 or 2007. That’s when he began to show his work to the public.
“I was like ‘no one sees my work,’” Waks said. “That’s when I really started showing around in the area.”
Since then he’s been showing a number of his finely crafter paintings. His most recent exhibition now on display at the Dollhaus II is entitled “Parade of Values- Defenders of Freedom,” which he said is inspired by his life-long fascination with old newspapers and the advertisements that graced their pages.
The exhibition featured the unveiling of 12 new paintings completed by Waks during 2022 and 2023. He called it a crescendo of a lot of his artistic work thus far.
“I’ve been working with that sort of imagery for a little while,” Waks said. “Most of it comes from old newspapers. This work is a culmination of a lot of using that imagery. But this is really bringing a lot of different elements together.
For example, this is the first time Waks has introduced color into his works in a big way. He utilizes colorful polka dots, a common theme in his work, to accent his art’s commentary on newspaper advertisement, with the pops of bright color also being inspired by a childhood memory.
“This is my first major show where I’ve really used color,” Waks said. “When I was a kid, we used to go to the beach in South Carolina. I was very visual starting at a young age. There was this big old white beach house that had polka dots all over. They weren’t really in a pattern, but they were all over the house. I used to make my parents take me down there, even when I was four or five years old.”
To Waks, polka dots represent the whimsical past, and go hand in hand with the advertisement imagery he utilizes which is supposed to be happy but also represents also the darker side of consumerism and capitalism. The objective to make money by convincing others to buy a product is also made clear in his paintings.
“The whole show is kind of about the ambivalence of consumer culture capitalism,” Waks said. “The dots are a happy thing. You can’t not smile If you look at polka dots. So eventually, I actually painted polka dots on the back of my house in Bayonne. Then I decided to work them into this new work.”
However, this isn’t exactly Waks first rodeo when it comes to painting color or polka dots. He said he has recently completed murals in North Bergen and Jersey City where he used similar motifs.
“It’s kind of a polka dot streak,” Waks said. “I’ve been experimenting with color, like in small paintings that I was showing in group shows. I had a show in the city two years ago where I used color but they were really small and it wasn’t polka dots, it was a different kind of pattern. So this is like the first time I’ve done this kind of work.”
Those motifs were not accompanied by the consumerist iconography and advertisement imagery of Amercian capitalist society starting in the 1950s and beyond. This work including those symbols, with obvious inspirations drawn from pop artists like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Richard Hamilton, and Edward Ruscha, is not like any he has completed before.
“The main theme is like the two sides of a coin,” Waks said. “I’m ambivalent, like I don’t think that our consumer culture and our capitalist society has like worked really well for everyone. I’m doing okay myself but I look at the country and it’s not working out for so many people. At the same time, I’m an ambivalent consumer. I have like 60 pairs of sneakers. So it’s celebrating consumerism but at the same time, it’s a caveat or the other side of the coin of over consumption or convincing ourselves that we need this or that to make our lives better.”
Waks crafts his masterpieces by first collecting old newspapers advertisements from the 1950s to the 1970s. Using the newspaper images, he makes a collage and adheres them to the canvas. Then Waks painstakingly paints over the canvas with thousands of tiny brushstrokes. The texture of the black oil paint and beeswax adds another dimension in contrast to the New Jersey license plate yellow to the already out-of-this-world pieces.
Wak’s work is fun and whimsical aiming to make viewers laugh, yet they also invite those who gaze upon them to think. While the paintings may be playful, they are double-sided commentary on American consumerism that went hand in hand with suburban life at the time of the ads used in his paintings.
This stems from Waks’ enthusiasm in history and also being a collector and archivist, seeking to decontextualize these common icons and emblems of the era. In “Parade of Values- Defenders of Freedom,” he aimed to illustrate a nostalgic and idealized past through the capitalist advertisements of the past and his own relationship with them, whether positive or negative.
Waks’ pieces are a commentary not only on the past, but on the country’s continuing obsession with consumerism and how it bled into the fabric of American culture. He faces this reality with both humor and irony in the text and images he chose, although there is a slight feeling of hope amid the critique he serves.
“There’s not one particular theme of each painting,” Waks said. “Taken together, that’s what the paintings are about.”
The exhibition by Waks will run until April 9. For more information, go to xdollhausx.com.
Waks concluded: “I try to make my work so it’s accessible, but it makes you think, makes you laugh. I hope people enjoy it for those purposes, hopefully find it aesthetically pleasing and hope it makes them think a little bit.”
Contact Daniel Israel at email@example.com.