What It All Meant
Ty Ennis, New American Art Union, 922 SE Ankeny, through Nov 27
The thematic lynchpin of Ty Ennis' second solo show at the New American Art Union is "I Have a Name of My Own and It's Not What's-His-Name," a drawing of a young boy playing cowboy, rifle slung over his shoulder, riding a family dog into an expansive white field of untouched paper. Beside this little cowboy is a drawing of a letter to the viewer, in which Ennis promises to retire his signature style of drawing, which is economic, exacting, and exploits white space as an active compositional element. Concluding that "this cowboy has got to move on," Ennis signs the letter, but not before signing it Marcel Dzama and Chris Johanson—and crossing out both names. These references position his work somewhere between Dzama's precise, yet illustrative figures and Johanson's more day-to-day subject matter. And in Ennis' bold negation of those names, he enacts a playful ritual in which he kills his idols: The thin and tentative lines of his drawings announce, whispering at the top of their lungs, that this artist is growing up.
And growing up appears to be What It All Meant's chief preoccupation, communicated in the intimate, bedroom aesthetic of his understated drawings, which include lists and hopelessly naked pleas on lined notebook paper, and his emotionally myopic subjects, like Kool-Aid stained Keds and deadbeat dads. Dads, in fact, reoccur throughout the show as figures of eroded admiration. In one of the show's best pieces, "Who, What, Where, Why, When and How Is It Gonna Hurt," a young man, rendered in clearly defined lines, surfaces from a fuzzy watercolor wash that silhouettes an adult leading a child by the hand. There's a clear implication of autobiography here, but dads are also the metaphorical "fathers" of Dzama and Johanson, artists whose styles influenced Ennis' formative sensibilities.
Not all of Ennis' drawings work. Particularly, his portraits of mustachioed trucker types paired with the names of pop icons, like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, feel like hollow hipster posturing. But enough meaning (and even a shred of narrative) materializes in the dozens of spare drawings here to make you think we'll see more of this cowboy a little on down the trail.