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Brendan Fowler’s current show at Richard Telles, called New Portraits, consists entirely of portraits of his friends, their likenesses embroidered using industrial embroidery machines into 14 small, uniformly-sized canvases. Fowler has attached odd found fabric to most of these canvases too—sequins, or a striped dress shirt. Brown shorts cover most of his portrait of Hannah (2017), so we only see her cheek and a glimpse of her lips.
The industrial embroidery has the look of photography-based stencils, just like wheat-pasted street art often does, the fabric interrupting this stenciled coolness. Swoon meets a poor-man’s Commes de Garcon. If Fowler’s friends dress the way his paintings of them look, they deserve to pop up in street-style slideshows. But what would, on the street, look daring and trend-bending, in a gallery appears relatively tame—faces more or less centered inside rectangles, fabric dangling but never too dramatically.
The face, neck and shoulders of Ilias (2107), wearing glasses and looking off to one side, have been embroidered over a tapestry of clothing tags that say “Election Reform!” The tags, which appear in a number of these portraits, come from Fowler’s own brand of t-shirts and sweatshirts, made with the same industrial embroidery machines that he uses for his artwork and the same layered, eccentric sensibility. The shirts come with booklets on reforming the electoral system—–fashion as portal into other conversations. The portraits, in contrast, seem almost less expansive. Aided by the tags, they act as teasers for Fowler’s timely streetwear, combining marketing, friendship, expression and activism into art object without necessarily complicating the overlaps between.
Brendan Fowler: New Portraits runs from January 7–February 11, 2017 at Richard Telles (7380 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036).