Gorilla Art: Ishmael finally puts on a one-man show

On display through Nov. 30
Eye Level Art Warehouse
2143 Heriot St.
(843) 425-3576

"Teacher seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person," read the opening lines of Daniel Quinn's 1992 novel, Ishmael. A young man answering the ad is astonished to find that the teacher is a silver-backed gorilla. Together they embark on a journey to understand the human condition.

The gorilla educates his young pupil on a multitude of ideas. Among them is that humans need to see themselves in a simpler way, without the cloud of modern civilization. He praises the hunter-gatherer existence yet does not recognize a return to this way of life as a solution. Quinn poses instead a challenging question: How to save the world from ourselves.

It is an impossible question. Yet it's no less inspiring to a Charleston artist who has taken the name of Quinn's gorilla. In a new one-man show at the Eye Level Art Warehouse, the artist shares the power of this kind of thinking.

His work is based on graffiti styles and inspired by graphic design. The show is themed on the idea of "rebirth." On your left, spray-painted blades of wheat rest on a continually red background. The red wall gives way to a room filled with delectable color and texture. The pieces are painted on several wooden panels surrounding the space.

Most of the panels depict willowy and wispy lines that swirl and lightly touch one another. The color varies in each work, but they are for the most part bright and vivid. I was drawn to a work entitled "Green Green." It was by far the richest in color, not just green. The brushstrokes twirl upward and peel away from one another, like Icarus and his perilous flight under the sun.

Ishmael's name occupies a good amount of space in the room, like a billboard advertisement. I believe giving credit where credit is due, but from the moment I walked in, I was constantly reminded of where I was, and whose art I was experiencing, as if he were fearful that by blinking I might forget.

Whatever happened to simplicity, a major theme in Quinn's novel?

The merchandising caught me off guard. T-shirts are the last thing I expected to find tucked behind a graffiti spattered wall. It was somewhat disappointing to witness modern consumerism surrounded by work boasting its contrary.

On another wall hang smaller panels, on which a couple featured the sage silver-backed gorilla. There is sense of playfulness here. Charlie Chaplin and the gorilla make an appearance in a piece called "Human Timeline," featuring an actual timeline of human civilization. Quinn's novel is again given homage.

The largest work, "Mi Locura ("My Madness"), comprised six panels that culminated into one image. It's impossible to see at the same time all the detail that encircles a tiny tree on the bottom of this massive circle. I held my breath. The metallic darkness threatens to engulf the miniature tree .

Ishmael's choice of materials is fascinating. He moves far beyond

conventional graffiti art. He incorporates metal, burned residue, and enamel. Together these create a surprising array of textures and colors. He brings them inside the frame, and inside a building, modifying their aesthetic nature. It's refreshing to see Ishmael using them in new ways and making them his own.



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