Ben Buchanan & Justin Earl
Ben Buchanan, photographer, and Justin Earl, painter, share a fascination with America: its people, landscape, and cities. They both sojourned in Manhattan from the early Eighties, and since 1990 have collaborated on projects interweaving photography and painting. In California and Nevada, their focus was primarily on wildernesses, celebrating the particular magic of The Chocolate Mountains, Joshua Tree, and Mt. Pinos. This new body of work has diametrically opposite concerns: It concentrates on one legendary nightclub, Area. A club in existence for just 4 years. That it lasted so long defies reason. According to Eric Goode, one of its co-owners, it was not conceived as a money-making venture. He had found a huge space for a bargain rent, and his thoughts revolved around two basic impulses: to build and maintain a scene of the most extravagant fun, and to mount an art project on a monumental scale. By these criteria, the venture was an outstanding success. From Wednesday to Saturday dense crowds thronged the entrance. Every six weeks, artists were given free range to realize a complete reconfiguration/reimagining of the space. (On one occasion it was remodeled as a grotesquely overscaled suburban house.) Such examples of licensed inspiration led to the club becoming a by-word for ludicrous excess. A victim of its own success, the gentrification which always follows colonization by artists, saw the rent increase by an untenable amount.
By providing an arena for abandoning restraint, a forum for exploring anti-taste, Area enveloped and developed the mid-Eighties zeitgeist. It became an important arbiter of artistic success. Showing there meant that you had arrived within a highly-influential coterie, and such success would appear to have happened overnight: it was a nightclub- Outside the sort of hushed, antiseptic enclosures which the cognoscenti are used to control. For those invested in the conventional gallery system, accustomed to the standard means of tracking an artist’s reputation, Area set an unwelcome precedent: a loosening of the reins. To the dismay of the self-respecting gallerists, the artists (who seemed more like exhibitionists than exhibitors) presenting at this venue seemed to have found a means of leapfrogging the standard hoops. Kenny Scharf, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring , Julian Schnabel set the tone, and later, joining in the fun, luminaries such as Andy Warhol, Chuck Close and David Hockney conceived pieces especially in sympathy with the space.
Buchanan's black and white photos, featuring the Stars and their satellites who illuminated Manhattan nightlife, have been adapted and intensified through Earl's interpretations, using acrylic paint. A balance is observed, between close fidelity to the original tonal values, and employing colours informed by sketches and memories, whilst allowing the free play of artistic license. Occasionally figures, ghosts, from a parallel world may glide through. As a (very partial) record of a particular time and place, it cannot avoid being suffused by nostalgia. Nothing quite like Area will ever be accommodated again. However, beyond the plain record, it feels as if something here is on the verge of opening by a crack the shutters between different dimensions, different times.