Venice artist Jack Winthrop’s first-ever solo exhibition is on view at Gabba Gallery
By Nicole Borgenicht
Jack Winthrop grew up in Minneapolis, where his art teachers told him he could be an artist. He moved to New York City where he earned a BFA in graphic design at The School of Visual Arts in 2011. For the next nine years, Winthrop immersed himself in street art and the world of graffiti art. There are commonalities and differences between the genres, which Winthrop seamlessly integrates.
Winthrop’s paintings show intense tortured soul imagery to the scale of Russian painter Chaïm Soutine yet intermixed with flavorful symbols of flowers and ladders more akin to graphic and comic genres. The composition and painting technique add a sense of depth.
“Depth comes from experimentation and observation,” Winthrop said. “I learned the hierarchy of color, form and design from school. Also, as a kid I was inspired by comic artists, and later by street art and graffiti.”
While street art and graffiti are created in public places, there are similarities and differences. Graffiti is often achieved in communities where text symbols of gangs mark their territory. Nonetheless, the colors and style of text along with imagery gives it an artistic, multifaceted presence. Street art similarly is in public spaces yet may be a commissioned or a noncommissioned mural, or imagery with a message creatively engaging some political, social or artistic commentary.
“Street art could be a mural or art based on the images and just that,” Winthrop said. “It can be anything you decide you want it to be. Traditional graffiti is a name, image or letters based on letter forms or a name, representing crews of graffiti artists’ tag.”
Besides his street art and graffiti experience, other influences for Winthrop’s art include Jean-Michel Basquiat and Pablo Picasso. One can observe in Winthrop’s works the Basquiat-like alter ego, and how it overcomes the self in relation to the world around us. In Basquiat’s paintings we may observe humor of the figure laughing with us at the absurdity. However, in Winthrop’s works, we are struck by the contrast of pain with graphic objects that penetrate like an arrow image, or delight with a flower.
Also influenced by Picasso, Winthrop’s paintings depict surreal figures, time and space, and the aspects of art, yet rather than cubism it is graphics, graffiti and street art intermingled in figure, symbols and text with painterly effects such as mixed media layering.
Larger scale works is a positive for Winthrop who previously worked in garages, although since he’s been living and working in Venice over the last five years, his new studio space has allowed for increasingly bigger canvas.
“My mediums include spray paint, acrylic paint with brush or acrylic marker and charcoal. I choose colors that are street art against a black or white background,” Winthrop said. “I create layers in depth as a freedom to spontaneity.”
Winthrop’s blackish and whitish backgrounds are always a mixture of layered elements that together create a textured plane with areas of spatial ambiguity. This is achieved in some cases with the way he mixes the background surface with tones of spray paint and acrylic brush work. There’s a resulting vibrancy that covers the dark or light scene, which fits nicely with positive negative imagery throughout.
In his “Wounded Healer” series, which is curated by Jason Ostro and Elena Jacobson and on display at Gabba Gallery through October 30, Winthrop reveals his overarching themes. He wants viewers to comprehend what is being said without needing the words to explain it. He feels life experience and engrossing his life in various genres of art has brought him to this series. Furthermore, the symbols in the painting are the elucidation underlying meaning to be encountered.
“There is an archetype in Greek mythology that Jung popularized that through pain and suffering, you will overcome it, heal and grow,” Winthrop said. “It is not so much that I am a healer, it is more emotional depth. My art comes out effortlessly. It is hard to talk about, more that people can relate to growth and overcoming things in life. The symbols in the painting are what led me here.”
A few predominant symbols in Winthrop’s works comprise windows, ladders, drugs, words and flowers.
“Arrows are wounds that heal, flowers are growth and hope,” Winthrop said. “Angst and symbols of get well are new beginnings that bloom.”