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In the past few years I have noticed a trend amongst a number of artists I admire: making things explode. These are huge, raw, stomach-churning explosions that embody the creators’ mutual philosophy towards their art and design. The differences between positive and negative space are diminished through splashes of palette, digital collage and the abstract deconstruction of the subjects, breaking down the subject into pure feeling by capturing its basic elements. Each of their works is built on a foundation of tumultuous movement, a sense of motion bringing one focal point into another, collapsing the space between all of the people, places and things that occupy the piece. What better name could there be for this philosophy other than ‘explodism’?
At its core, explodism is art and design that captures the idea of an object, person or place by exploding the subject into its components, often doing so by breaking perceived boundaries. The boundaries it breaks are not limited to stylistic or technical senses but include the art’s subjects as well. Explodist art often expands outwards from a single point: this is seen most prominently in the jets of John Wilkins’ ‘Fauve Fascism’ series of paintings, which show the shells bursting free of the engines; it is again seen in the digital designs of Joel Hentges, which include everything from the falling sky to a pouring teapot’s milky haze. This focused explosion can also be found in the portraits by Winston Chmielinski: through references to the process of painting, Chmielinski’s portraits explode the boundary between palette and canvas. Yet there is formality and history inherent to all of these works, for boundaries cannot be broken unless they first exist.
John Wilkins has begun work on a new series of paintings which explore the perceived barriers between urban and suburban communities, tearing down the walls dividing them until the two concepts do not merely coexist but blend together as one. The intent is to break down these communities into their basic elements, to capture the feeling of being free within them. It is the difference between breathing in an active street corner and looking over a stranger’s snapshot of one – the difference between the thing itself and a fleeting memory. In these paintings one can detect the influences of graffiti, futurism and cubism, amongst other nods to art history, crashing and bleeding into one another. And, like all explodists, Wilkins continuously collapses the barrier between positive and negative space, the body and the soul. In his ‘Fauve Fascism’ series, the jets’ bodies are bursting apart, yet the idea of them – the soul – is more pronounced than ever, each disparate part contributing to a heightened emotional connection to the concept of the jet itself. In this way the paintings move from detached objectification to a total, self-aware embracement of the machismo. It is seeing things as they truly are that ties Wilkins’ works together: his jets explode the influence of blueprints and macho sexuality into abstraction, while his graffiti-soaked walls explode into the world itself.
In terms of the designer Joel Hentges, explodism might best be applied to the process of Hentges’ earlier pieces, in which the subject is taken apart and exploded onto the digital canvas. Sometimes the subject is a piece of found or stock art that has been torn to pieces and rearranged into an altogether original work, giving the subject new life. This is seen in a piece wherein Renaissance art meets the controlled chaos of modernity, the Renaissance art stripped of recognition and turned into texture that acts as the piece’s focal point. Bursting from this texture are gestural lines of blue paint that bond it to the digital canvas, holding down one well-defined art style with another. Although he will scan in his own personal paint strokes for gesture lines and texture, pure strokes of digitally-created colour often play a major role in Hentges’ identity as a designer, with impossibly bright pinks acting as his calling card. His more extreme digital works are best represented by his pieces that focus on the subject of graffiti and tags. Consider, for example, a work that is comprised of two solid colours and textured beige: by shattering various tags into a thousand different pieces and rejoining them in an amorphous orgy tied together by a solid shade of brown, Hentges has found a way, through digital means, to capture the very idea of something as physical as graffiti. The masterfulness of Hentges’ work in digital graffiti comes in the way he controls what would otherwise be true chaos: every shard of seemingly extraneous detail is necessary for holding the composition together, giving form to the formless. Through his explodist digital pieces, Hentges has replicated the aesthetics of accidents, natural deterioration and vandalism, offering profoundly artistic insight into the ways we react to the urban world around us.
Winston Chmielinski paints explodist portraits of the people inhabiting this urban world, his subjects ranging from students to perverts to self, sometimes twinned and often bursting. His explodist tendencies can be seen in even his earliest works, wherein the most basic colours capture and create the most complex moods. In an early untitled piece, the red of a dress breaks free from the outline separating it from the green, indeterminable background. It is a painting of a photograph that a woman has taken of herself, and the impression of vanity bleeding into the painting is as startling as the red of the dress bleeding into the green. As his paintings progress, it is clear that both formal training and free experimentation are required – and implemented – to achieve his unique vision: in the same painting he will break the very boundaries that he adheres to. A portrait that would otherwise be an exercise in realism explodes onto the canvas with bursts of colour; swirls and splashes of paint are utilised until the palette becomes the painting and the painting becomes the palette. In Chmielinski’s world, there is nothing separating paintings from reality. This is perhaps summed up best with the title of his greatest explodist piece, ‘The Plastic End’ – through sheer explosions of colour he has created portraits that describe how it feels to paint, create and reveal, bringing a much-needed end to the fabrications of our plastic world.
Explodism is, in the end, what the world needs. There is nothing that jolts us into heightened awareness of our world quite like an explosion, particularly explosions of such vivid colour and raw emotion. John Wilkins shows us the machinations of war as they really are, Joel Hentges shows us the walls we walk by of the streets we walk down and Winston Chmielinski shows us the people, people who often reflect ourselves and our own states of being. All of this is exploded and the explosions engulf us. But there is still so much left to explode.
The artwork in this article is the property of the individual creators and is used with permission. The pieces are, in descending order:
Wilkins, John. 'Cell Division.'
Wilkins, John. 'Ashtray City.'
Hentges, Joel; Groendyk, Ryan. 'Extreme Fungaloid Attack 4000.'
Chmielinski, Winston. 'The Plastic End.'
Chmielinski, Winston. 'The end or just before.'
Hentges, Joel. 'Untitled.'