Friday, November 13, 2009

Sunday Drive: Luke Smalley (1955-2009)

[“Laundry” (2008), digital C-print. “First Year Anniversary” (2008), digital C-print. “Now What?” (2008), digital C-print.]

Successfully constructing a timeless world flirting on the edges of homoeroticism, Luke Smalley’s sexy (and sometimes underestimated images) will be up at ClampArt through December 19, 2009. The exhibition, “Sunday Drive”—a series of playful images by Smalley, who died unexpectedly on May 17, 2009—coincides with the release of his final book with the same title.

Arguably Smalley’s most impressive body of work, “Sunday Drive” is highly narrative. The series tells the story of three young women lost in deep reverie and preoccupied with choice of attire who go off for a lovely summer drive in a vintage yellow convertible—to visit their incarcerated boyfriends in the state penitentiary! This perspective contrasts with images of healthy young men awaiting arrival of their girlfriends while submitting and surrendering to procedures demanded of those in prison. The viewer will see the undercurrent of lives lived by small-town youth—and the dearth of possibilities open to them. This awaiting and untenable economic milieu is visceral. Alas, the bored, frisky, and wide-eyed boys just off a high school football field have nowhere to go other than positions at Wal-Mart. Is it any wonder that innocence has taken a wrong turn?

Beyond questions posed about societal gender constructs and the exposed nerve of possibilities (or their lack thereof) in this intersection of fashion, youth culture, and sexual ambivalence, there is inherent humor and irony. Possibly the immediacy and strength of Smalley’s images has to do with his experience on the “other” side of the camera as a model and personal trainer with a background in sports medicine. With his imaginative use of props, costumes, and staging Smalley helped to bridge the gap between whimsy, sensuality, and machismo—a perspective so rarely seen in our popular culture. Captured largely within the comfort zone of his northwest Pennsylvania environs, Smalley’s work—with its Minimalist aesthetic—opens up a nostalgic and tongue-in-cheek world for the viewer.

Smalley preceded “Sunday Drive” (2009) with three other books: “Exercise at Home” (2007) with its themes of adolescent growing pains; Kim Jones (2004), his collaboration with the British menswear designer; and “Gymnasium” (2001) with its quirky compositions. His work—used by the retailer American Eagle outfitters—has appeared on the pages of such publications as Another Man, Arena Homme Plus, Dazed & Confused, Ten, Vogue Hommes International, The New York Times, New York Times Style, and America.

“Sunday Drive”: Luke Smalley (1955-2009)

Through December 19, 2009

@ ClampArt

521-531 West 25th Street, Ground Floor, New York City 10001

Twin Palms Publishers • Twelvetrees Press

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