Jordan Weber is one of the lucky artists to whom the perfect time comes. His art had long been dealing with African-American stereotypes and subject matter before Ferguson, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, Minneapolis and Dallas inspired billionaire financier George Soros and Taco Bell heir Rob McKay to pour big money into making Black Lives Matter, a main player in their activist agenda. That likely helps keep Weber’s art relevant on a national scale. He’s already had shows in New York and Los Angeles and completed projects in Oakland.
Yet the Des Moines artist is also moving into new styles with no political commentary. His new exhibition at Moberg Gallery is an eclectic mix of racial treatise and the philosophy of peace. Both use unique media long associated with the artist, who is also featured in the Des Moines Art Center’s Iowa Artist exhibition. Weber has been painting with tar, asphalt, riot debris, police car parts and earth collected from historic events in places like Ferguson. This show, he introduces lion urine to his repertoire.
“I did not personally harvest it. Zoos do, though. There is demand for it in gardening and landscaping because it scares away animals that might eat certain plants. I acquired some and opened it up to mix with pigment. The smell was so dreadful I had to abandon my studio for about 24 hours,” he explained.
In ”IC2163” Weber uses lion piss in an homage to Pat Steir, who developed a technique of dripping and flinging paints in an homage to Chinese and Japanese waterfall paintings. There is an elegant peacefulness in the painting, which quickly sold. There is no foul aroma left either. “I just wanted to let the waterfall push away at the entire environment,” he said.
Environments are subjects in other paintings. One, named “Finley Manifesto,” is inspired by an Irish urban gardener who believes that growing one’s own food is an act of empowerment in blighted neighborhoods where healthy foods are hard to come by. Its greens and blue represent more hopefulness than darker paintings. “Movement Activism” and “Green Draughts of Space” also comment on environmental destruction.
“So many suburban developments are named for things that they have driven away — Deer Creek, Fox Run, etc. That’s why I used concrete on the canvas, it’s literally the stuff that destroys the original inhabitants of the environment. One- and two- crop agriculture has done the same thing in large parts of Iowa. I use waterfalls here as a goal of sorts, something that cannot be easily driven away,” he said of the latter work.
The former work is more playful. Chewing gum is used as a medium. “That’s the anti-academic voice in my head. I love the playfulness of Dada and the Fluxists. That’s why I incorporate cartoon characters in my works, too. ‘Movement Activism’ features hyper extenders from around the world. Those are plants that can suck nitrogen from the air into the soil, reducing the need to use genetically modified seeds, herbicides and fertilizers,” Weber explained.
In racially charged paintings, he is both playful and serious. In two paintings titled “Sing me a universe,” he uses forensic dust to highlight the fact that fingerprinting makes people feel vulnerable and threatened. One features Porky Pig in a “Hands up. Don’t shoot” pose. “NGC2207” shows basketball great Shaquille O’Neill in a Boston Celtics jersey, made up like a minstrel show clown, being attacked by a German shepherd police dog. In the air are green vegetables Shaq was trying to grow. “Sweet 16 #2” depicts palm trees and basketball hoops being blown over by hurricane winds. It’s painted with tar on a police car hood.
“If we can’t blast through, we’ll burn through” uses asphalt and tar to depict the cartoon character Goofy being attacked by five predators. “It’s about the threat of being on the streets,” he said. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.