Mr. Peanut lives better than most of us. He has his top hat, his cane and his white gloves. His pants are conspicuously absent. It’s understandable. I guess he doesn’t feel the need to wear them while tons of people around the world eat his nuts. It’s hard to say just how a peanut man from 1916 has achieved such fame. The happy go lucky Peanut has served his tenure with pride, making us all glad to enjoy an occasional snack. But there’s more to this story. Mr. Peanut has never been exposed as the guilt-ridden capitalist he is, well at least not until now.
What I speak of is the approaching finale to a spectacular pop art exhibition at the Panhwa Art Studio of Georgetown. Artist M.V. Clark’s The Peanut Gallery combines the popular commercial icon with strong political messages. The works use the arrogant little legume as their center point, casting him onto canvas among other pop icons.
“I wanted the works to be political but not overtly political,” Clark told The Hatchet. “(Mr. Peanut) represents world capitalism … the works aren’t entirely negative, but show different elements of the capitalist system.”
The works are all hand painted and made to look like silk screens. In this style, the works of Warhol are aggressively reborn.
“Before painting them I wanted to throw away everything I had learned about art and become primal,” Clarke said “With that I felt Mr. Peanut would be an excellent way to represent the joyless materialism of capitalism.”
In a work titled “Race Relations,” we see the peanut man standing proud in the foreground amidst blaxploitation cartoon characters. They are all set against a background of vibrantly pulsing colors. The race theme continues in another piece, using popular sport team caricatures of Indians to symbolize the selling of Native American culture. The topics of these works focus on the products of capitalism as they relate to war, racial discrimination and the power of economics to transform culture into petty materialism.
Saddam Hussein makes an appearance, as does Mickey Mouse and our very own George Washington.
The primal nature of the works lies in their total defiance of all classical models. The canvases represent a raw artistic release toward an overly glorified political system. Frustration manifests itself in the interplay of symbols of pop culture iconography and a backdrop of chaotic color and broken patterns.
While Mr. Peanut remains unmoved and confident in every piece, what goes on behind him suggests something different. The effect is that his unassuming gaze becomes somehow sinister. The works invite the viewer to to entertain a plethora of metaphors, reaching that wonderful point where canvas becomes text.
As an artist, Clark is devoted to his craft, allowing young artists to use his own Georgetown gallery (MocA). As a young group of punks walked into the gallery, he eagerly popped in a bootleg videocassette documenting the numerous “Project Mayhem-esque” works of street art he and other artists have created that they aired on local and national news channels.
Knowing this, Clark’s life is definitely exhibited on canvas. The Peanut Gallery is an excellent display of new wave pop art. Where Warhol sold out, Clark stands fast, continuing to produce art that draws the islands of pop culture and politics to their appropriate bridging point.
The Peanut Gallery, showing through April 22, is located at the Panhwa Art Studio (1038 31st St. NW) in Georgetown. Admission is free.