Remember You Will Die

February 16–20, 2022
Co-curators: Malachi Wilson and Janessa Lewis
Venue: SPRING/BREAK Art Show, Los Angeles
Participating artist(s): Jacob Haupt and Nancy Rivera
Publication: Gallery Booklet

Humans have long grappled with a fear of the unknown—tackling the issue using narrative structures to prototype possible futures for themselves and civilization. Death, alien cultures, and illness have long been staples of art, literature, and movies. By mixing the real with the unreal, hypotheses are played out and tested on the page and screen to determine how to deal with these often terrifying scenarios.

Nancy Rivera, Silk Flowers in a Vase With a Peony and Apple Blossom at the Top, 2018, archival inkjet print, 45 × 30 in.
Nancy Rivera
Silk Flowers in a Vase With a Peony and Apple Blossom at the Top, 2018
Archival inkjet print
45 × 30 in.

In her work Impossible Bouquets: After Jan van Huysum (2018) Nancy Rivera subverts the tradition of still life, a phenomenon woven so deeply into the fabric of art history as to completely mystify a version without it. Her floral arrangements echo the historically performative nature of the still life as a tool to demonstrate the wealth of the patron and the virtuosity of the painter, while stripping it of these self-serving motivations. Rivera’s photos of artificial flowers and fruit, reference the painterly compositions of Jan van Huysum in 18th century Amsterdam. Van Huysum’s vanitas were closely related to memento mori, works meant to remind the viewer of the looming specter of death. He replicated and visually arrested the rapidly decaying flora in front of him as both a way to document the wealth of the patron who could afford the extravagant floral arrangements, and also as a reminder of the fleeting nature of life.

This echo chamber of iterative creations—Rivera’s reference to Van Huysum, who in turn references memento mori, which in turn references a struggle with death—parallels the idea of the children’s game “broken telephone” wherein each additional communication of the original idea further distorts the message and corrupts its meaning. The rich colors and plastic foliage of her photographs mask the foreboding and somber source material. In this way, her work functions as a saturated rumor of the original work, as well as its own self-sufficient series. In this process, Rivera places herself in the position of authority over the still life and its associated historical narrative in a contemporary setting.

The work of Jacob Haupt similarly focuses on reiterations and cultural investigations into the hereafter. His photographic series and accompanying art objects Did I Scare You? materialize and make tangible cinematic monsters. Following a long tradition of the animate depictions of death, disease, conquest, and human experience in the form of grotesque creatures, Haupt wrestles with death and fear using mythologies as a means to access and depict the unknown. His work disarms these monsters by using the awkward and goofy iconography that defines ’80s and ’90s B movies, children’s cartoons, horror films, and DIY halloween costumes. Haupt uses repetition of the mysterious, domestic materials, and bright colors to make the scary and mysterious, juvenescent and approachable.

Left: Jacob Haupt, Demon Chair, 2020 / Right: Window Creep, 2017
Left: Jacob Haupt
Demon Chair, 2020
Inkjet photo print
20 × 16 in.
Right: Jacob Haupt
Window Creep, 2017
Inkjet photo print
20 × 16 in.

Creatures such as swamp monsters, zombies, possessed children, and others have been used in film, television, and books to personify mysterious evils, such as death, disease, and fear of the alien. Many of these mysteries have since become better understood and even tamed on a global scale, however fear and ignorance cannot be fully eradicated. Haupt renders these historical monsters harmless while acknowledging the residual anxiety and horror.

Haupt and Rivera’s work in collaboration functions as an intricate map of historical and pop cultural references which bleed into one another, further obscuring the source of the narrative with each step. The global nature of contemporary media promotes an ever-evolving web of cross referencing ideas, images, and motifs, further distancing itself from the doctrinal canons of art—each a reflection or ghost of what came before. Despite attempts to freeze time, cure disease, and defeat monsters, the inevitability of death shadows us all.

– Essay by Malachi Wilson, Christopher Lynn, and Janessa Lewis

Purchase Jacob Haupt’s Did I Scare You? book


February 14–16, 2020
Venue: SPRING/BREAK Art Show, Los Angeles, CA
Participating artist(s): Casey Jex Smith and Amanda Smith
Publication: Gallery Booklet

The Hunt-Lenox Globe is the oldest surviving terrestrial globe that depicts the Americas. Dating from around 1510 AD, the engraved copper sphere captures the land masses commonly known at the time amid a sea of meticulously drawn waves. In the area of southeast Asia is written the Latin phrase, “HC SVNT DRACONES,” or “Here be dragons.” Perhaps a reference to Marco Polo’s ventures into the Kingdom of Dragoian (Sumatra), the phrase and derivations thereof were later used by cartographers to signal a warning against trespassing, unseen dangers, or poorly charted territories. Other maps would simply depict strange creatures near the shores or rolling in the waves—these creatures were mythical scare tactics.

The act of mapping territory is never completed. Borders and shores themselves are unmappable except as flattened abstractions. The mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot meditated in his essay “How Long Is the Coast of Britain?” (1967) and in his book The Fractal Geometry of Nature (1983) that when zooming in on a coastline, details become more pronounced. What may have been seen as a straight line, and easily measured, becomes a series of curves, articulations, and “corrugation,” each adding to the length of the border.1, 2 As those corrugations are magnified, more detail is seen and more length added. Each level of detail leads down a path of infinite length. How, then, is the infinite mapped, and what lies in the unmapped areas?

The artist couple Casey Jex Smith and Amanda Smith engage in acts of mapping and world creation. Their inexorably detailed and fantastical worlds reveal alternate realities, prototyped allegorical futures, and fictional inner monologues.

Casey Jex Smith, 2013
Casey Jex Smith
2013, 2013
Pen on paper
38 × 58 in.

Casey Smith’s Micron pen and colored pencil drawings are Boschian visions that cull inspiration from Dungeons & Dragons, Métal Hurlant, video game cartographies, the history of modern Western art, and Judeo-Christian mythology. Blemmyai wielding clubs converse over a sleek modernist structure, crashing waves of impending doom are barely held at bay by a prophet, and an overgrown greenhouse cradles monuments, statuary, and urns in its thick foliage. Each drawing resembles an isometric map, replete with monsters and border-like boundaries. Taking months to complete, these drawings are covered with minute marks akin to etching—every surface being considered and labored over. Some of the narrative vignettes in each drawing are discernible while others are buried under layers of personal or archaic symbolism and made inscrutable. The scenes spill to the edges of the paper, hinting at a sprawling universe of chaos and monstrous hybridity that is as fascinating as it is grotesque.

Casey Jex Smith
2016, 2016
Pen & ink, colored pencil, gouache, and gold leaf on paper
38 × 58 in.

Amanda Smith’s ceramic works are populated solely by young girls in smart frocks engaged in various acts of warfare. In Dragon (2019), a legion of uniformed girls wielding poison, a torch, swords, and an axe attack a blonde coiffed dragon and his minions. Tree of Social Mobility (2018) depicts various girls sitting on branches of a tree. The girls in the lower branches wear plain white clothing, while in the upper branches more colorful and ornamented clothes are worn, including a MAGA hat topping a tea-sipping maid. A girl in the upper left of the tree aims a flaming arrow at the girls attempting to traverse a ladder to an upper bough. These allegories, in the age of Trump and political subterfuge, illustrate social woes and play out fantasies of overthrowing the system and taking down the head dragon with his tousled mop of bleached hair.

Left: Amanda Smith Dark Money, 2017 / Right: Tree of Social Mobility, 2018
Left: Amanda Smith
Dark Money, 2017
Ceramic, oil paint, gold leaf, rhinestones
12.5 × 12 × 1 in.
Right: Amanda Smith
Tree of Social Mobility, 2018
Ceramic and oil paint
15 × 12 × 0.5 in.

Her executions are tightly detailed and complex, with layers of ceramic foliage framing the painted scenes. Her depictions recall Henry Darger, but without the pedophillic undertones or indecipherable personal narratives. The work revels in visual lavishness while railing against political and economic excesses and inequalities.

Amanda Smith Dragon, 2019
Amanda Smith
Dragon, 2019
Ceramic and oil paint
16 × 16 × 1 in.

Drifting in the corners of the space are piles of hundreds of thin foam characters—each lovingly drawn and cut out from brightly colored sheets of thin craft foam. Smith created these with her son and daughter over the course of years. Responding to requests from her children, Smith would render Spider Man’s entire family complete with spider wife, spider son and daughter, and spider baby, Miss Frizzle’s head on a bat’s body, Pokémon characters, and inventions by the artist herself. Over time, her children joined in on the making of the characters rather than simply petitioning. The result is a cacophonous accumulation of colors, styles, and imaginations that reflect the content of the drawings and ceramic paintings on the walls. When viewed all together—myths, parables, histories, and characters—there is a distinct sense of turbulent and childlike play as these artists make visible the manic excesses of ideas and inputs they experience. They explore and map their imagined worlds one area at a time while warning of the perils that lie inside and outside defined spaces. Here be dragons, but they can be killed.

  1. Benoit Mandelbrot, “How Long Is the Coast of Britain? Statistical Self-Similarity and Fractional Dimension,” Science 156, no. 3775 (May 5, 1967): 636–38. [Back]
  2. Benoit Mandelbrot, The Fractal Geometry of Nature (New York: Freeman, 1983), 25–26. [Back]