Ward Shelley, People of the Book v.1, 2012, oil and toner on mylar, 28.5 x 57 inches.
Call them data visualizations, rhetorical drawings, or, as he does, graphic narratives, Ward Shelley’s paintings are mesmerizing, mind-boggling, and infinitely debatable. His obsessively researched timelines chronicling cultural phenomena—Frank Zappa, science fiction, teenagers, the very concept of the avant-garde—inhabit the art-chart spectrum somewhere between the playful mappings of Saul Steinberg and the paranoid diagrams of Marc Lombardi, though the paintings, executed in a Seussian palette, have a more biomorphic quality, as though history could be rendered as a giant squid.
Shelley’s newest obsession is the history of the Jews. Starting with Ur and Canaan, his painting The People of the Book traverses Samaritans, Gnostics, Kazars, marranos, Karaites, the Bobov, Jabotinsky, and the Kabbalah Center. One version is at Pierogi Gallery’s stand at the Armory Fair this weekend; two other versions are in Shelley’s current show through March 18 at the gallery’s Williamsburg headquarters.
Read more in my story in Tablet.