By Dave R. Davison
The Feast Arts Center just unveiled a new show of work by Seattle-based artist Troy Gua. The show, called “Smorgasbord,” is a primer for those unfamiliar with Gua’s work. For those who already know him, it is a delightful little jaunt down memory lane — a sampler of work from some of his previous exhibits.
I am in the former group of those unfamiliar with this artist. For me the show was a whetting of the appetite. It sent me on a quest to become better acquainted with the work of this self-proclaimed “pop conceptualist.”
The mini-retrospective is well organized and includes informational signs that allow viewers to learn about the various projects and shows that Gua has been involved in.
The experience can be fully fleshed out by a visit to Gua’s very well-crafted, user-friendly website (troygua.com) that has plenty of images, videos and clear explanations of the ideas and aims behind his work.
Gua is mentally nimble. His art is a concise, visual realization of well-defined ideas and intelligent conceptions. Unlike many idea-rooted artists, Gua avoids getting cumbersome; perhaps because he is possessed of a sharp sense of humor.
Gua’s art is wide-ranging and dynamic. Much of his work is done as a means to explore the range and potentiality of a specific idea. His “pop hybrids,” for example, are the result of Gua’s toying with the idea of a future in which space is limited and images have to be piled on top of each other. That led him to create a voluminous series of paintings and prints in which portraits of two people are superimposed on one another. Akin to Andy Warhol’s screen-prints of celebrities, Gua’s pop hybrids are large and colorful. “Smorgasbord” features “The Brains and the Beauty,” a visual mash-up of Albert Einstein and Marilyn Monroe.
A 2015 exhibit called “Orange Dust” showed Gua to be a sharp critic of American culture. Gua mimicked the King Tut exhibit of Egyptian artifacts by using things like two-liter soda pop bottles, shiny bullet shells and toys to make an insightful and funny memorial to a doomed civilization. Here he imagines American civilization doomed by its own excesses. The orange dust of the title is the orange stuff that coats Doritos. The image for the show was a photograph that looked like the pyramids of Egypt but was actually a trio of Doritos snack chips.
These are but a couple examples of Gua’s conceptual projects. “Smorgasbord” has works from several of Gua’s other lines of exploration. Throughout, one can detect Gua’s interest in the ways in which digital technology seems to be producing a reversion in our ways of communication: i.e. in a return to the use of glyphic symbols like emoji.
There is also an interest in making art that has an aura of a machine-made product. Gua likes glossy, shiny surfaces that wear the antiseptic guise of a corporate logo instead of the raw texture of an oil painting.
It is easy to see why Gua has made such a splash in the Seattle art scene. His work combines precision, humor and colorful brilliance into products that are attractive and thought provoking without being heavy-handed about the point they are making.
I went into the Feast Arts Center almost wanting to dislike Gua. He looks like a Hollywood director’s stereotype of an artist: suave, lean, chiseled, well-spoken, witty, connected and confident. Once I began to dig into his oeuvre, however, I was swiftly seduced by his agile mind, strong work ethic and wonderful craftsmanship.
“Smorgasbord” runs through Sept. 16 at Feast Arts Center, 1402 S. 11th St. For further information visit feastarts.com.