The Secret Influence of Dr. Seuss: Jared Pankin at Carl Berg

10 November, 2005

In the history of art, there are plenty of painters who've been esteemed for a time well beyond the eventual long-term level at which their influence will settle. Rothko, Bouguereau, and Basquiat spring immediately to mind. Whatever you might think of the quality of these artists' work, for whatever reason, it seems to have made a surprisingly small impression on the work of artists after them. Obviously the oscillating focuses of artistic fashion play their part in this dynamic (Bouguereau, of all people, seems on the verge of coming back now), but maybe it could also be something inherent in these artists' work?

Then there are the artists whose shadow is immense, but invisible. Commercial success or an obscure medium bar them from the pantheon of named-influences. Lately, I've come to suspect that Dr. Seuss might be prominent in this category. Ever since Michael Knutson, my college painting professor mentioned him during a slide presentation about his own work, I've seen Seuss's tilted, wild landscape and architectural perspectives in more and more pictures by "serious" artists.

double coil
oh, the places you'll go cover

I added another name to the tally of Secret Seussophiles this month when I came across the great work of sculptor Jared Pankin, whose exhibit at the Carl Berg Gallery was reviewed in the most recent issue of Art in America. Pankin builds landscape fantasies out of tiny chips and layers of particle board and other highly processed wood materials.

Natural, Natural, History (Lucifer's Left Nut)
Natural Natural History (Satan's Sloop)

Pankin builds up his pieces through innumerable layers of flat wood chips, echoing the striations of natural rock formations, but he also forces his forms to canter crazily over voids, spiral endlessly skywards, and just constantly defy the solid stolidity and logic that, in art at least, tends to be the hallmark of natural forms. All these are Seussian moves.

Seuss Butler
Horton hears a hoo

Natural, Natural History (Devil's Hand Out)

I wonder what other productive influences are out there like Seuss, hidden in plain view. Are there performance artists who are obsessed with the muppets? Painters who love Gary Larson? Sculptors who still play with their GI Joes?

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