Bam Margera: skateboarder, television star, notorious troublemaker and… expressionist painter? That’s the surprising revelation at James Oliver Gallery (JOG) this month. JOG is displaying over sixty paintings by Margera alongside artwork by a few of his friends. The short show only lasts for two weeks, through April 21.
What should not come as a surprise is that Bam Margera’s paintings are extremely chaotic. Many are themed by location including “CKY in Moscow,” “Detroit,” “Denmark,” and “Adelaide.” They almost all share in a few characteristics like thickly applied paint and dark, jagged outlines. There are a few exceptions, like photos of Bam being straddled by and carousing with a topless stripper in a three-part “Las Vegas” series. Add in the piece covered with smoked cigarette butts and a grocery list which begins: “Milk, Coffee, Heroin…” and you’ve got the perfect recipe for some type of hedonistic orgy. If there were any doubts about this, the bird-flipping, wine-glass-toting painting which reads “Looks like I’m outta jail you fat mother fucker, now bring me my wine!” dispels any doubt.
Ever the antagonist, Bam also toys with blasphemy as well. A nude female figure holding a cross in one painting appears downtrodden and even penitent as her face appears to be melting off. Clearly this painting could be somewhat offensive to a religious audience, but as it stands it is actually one of the more thought-provoking and emotional works in the show. Instead of a drug-addled joke, this faceless figure actually appears to be weeping or struggling, and stands out as one of the most genuinely emotional pieces in the show. Although painful, it is somewhat refreshing to see the more sensitive side to a man who may often be pigeonholed as merely a prankster.
Much of the work in the show aside from Bam’s is photography-based. Geoff “Red Mohawk” Blake has a number of surreal, high-resolution portraits and some assemblage work as well. “Frustration of Creation” depicts a nude woman (this seems to be a recurring theme here) sitting with her hand on her head in an anxious pose somewhat reminiscent of Rodin’s “The Thinker.” The photo is split into four window-like frames, the bottom of which is filled with crumpled up paper, both photographed and real. Any creative individual can empathize with the frustration depicted here – the moment of anguish and defeat which (hopefully) precedes a revelation.
Blake’s photo “Toxic Youth” shows a full-grown man in his underwear sitting on a red tricycle. His face is covered by a gas mask and he dwarfs the tiny vehicle, which would usually be transporting toddlers. His posture appears bored and sedentary, and alongside the mask, this image is in many ways a critique of modern youth. It seems to suggest that we grow up too fast and never even have a shot at innocence; in fact the very idea of a playful childhood may very well be fading away.
The rest of the exhibition is a wall shared by Justin Muir and Ryan Gee. Most of these works are also portraits of intriguing characters – including Bam himself – as well as images of bathtubs, blood, and roses. Of these photos, the series of beard pictures by Muir are great in capturing the beard as the essence of a man in both demeanor and texture.
Some aspects of JOG’s “Bam Margera and Friends” show reflect the persona most of us would expect: wild, tasteless, and offensive. What is promising to see, is that there are some developing themes residing just below the surface. If you get a chance to visit the show before its quickly-approaching closing, make sure to spend some time delving into Bam Margera’s rather large output of paintings instead of just taking it at face value… and pregaming first might not be a bad call either.