Pop kingdom come
Two days before the show opens, Jason Huff and a few friends are setting up white pillars and fragile ceramics at the Sheppard Gallery. But the artist, unfazed, walks around the room, clicking his boots in the echoing chamber. His crisp pink shirt perfectly matches his display of “pimp” cups—elephant bases topped with pink-fluted ceramic and studded with cubic zirconia—at the far end of the gallery, giving the impression that pink is his favorite color.
Pop culture dominates Huff’s American Kings exhibit in texture and effigy. Many of his pieces reflect the rabid collector culture—figurines, commemorative cups and teapots. But Huff mixes these with iconic American pop figures.
There’s no sign of Lady Di or other European royalty in the Kings exhibit, and yes, this is on purpose. “This is America, damn it,” says Huff, a Seattle-based artist. “Didn’t we have a war about that, I think?”
Huff was inspired for his Kings collection while looking at pop-culture tabloids with his wife, who explores pop culture in her own art. He couldn’t understand why, in an American tabloid, pictures of non-U.S. royalty dominated the “news.” So he decided to make a statement through art about the greatness of America’s “kings.” And since we’re ruled by the president, who’s thankfully not a king, we don’t have any official royalty here in the good old land of opportunity. So Huff focuses on American pop stars with “King” in their last name or as an nickname. Thus, we see the likes of Don King and Elvis manipulated into ceramic oddities like pincushions and slightly erotic teapots.
But this show isn’t just about kings. The selected assortment covers Huff’s self-image, too, as in “A Portrait of the Artist with Louies.”
“Louie, my cat,” says Huff, “is very popular with my friends.” Obviously. The work is the centerpiece of the show. It echoes Huff’s own identity, which seems caught up in Louie (an interesting name for a cat, considering Jason’s fascination with kings). The 3-foot ceramic self-portrait is covered in Louie-like fur. It climaxes in a huge fur head with Huff’s ceramic face poking through, dark eyes and eyebrows contrasting with incredibly pale skin.
“In Japan these costumes are so popular, even in adult sizes,” says Huff. The animal bodies are proportional to the human body, but the head is enormous, and the costumed face pokes out strangely from the mouth. Even more amusing is the fleet of small Louies that flock around Jason’s feet, all resting on a small patch of astroturf.
Though masked and surrounded by Louies, Huff is still trying to create his own personal mark. This might be even more crucial for him than for other budding artists, since there are two other Jason Huffs in Seattle alone. “It’s kind of weird,” our Huff says. “We even frequent the same places.”
But his art reflects his own sense of Jason Huff, from the pink shirt to the Louie obsession, incorporating the avid TV-watching and comic-book culture of his youth. His style will bemuse and amuse Sheppard Gallery visitors for the next few weeks; regrettably, Louie won’t be able to attend.