John Herschend: “YOUR LOST SHOE (or everything that happened since the last time)”
at Gallery 16
(Art Ltd magazine, May-June 2017)
Corporate employment in the exciting widget business was treated with satirical gusto in the 1961 musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, with its catchy anthem. The Company Way. John Herschend’s YOUR LOST SHOE (or everything that has happened since the last time, with its similarly long, humorous title, continues the San Francisco artist’s wry fictional narrative of love and loss at work—previously treated in performances, installations, mock-educational videos and faux infomercials—in painting.
Ten oils on panel, seven watercolors on paper, a bronze sculpture, and a digital projection depict Herschend’s uninhabited office stage sets. Although the paintings are not hung sequentially, there is a back story, which we join in progress. The Narrator works for a company that designs and fabricates amusement park rides (echoing the artist’s background). He loves Lisa, a co-worker; his romantic rivalry with Mark, another co-worker, leads to a break-room wrestling match, and the Narrator’s theft of Mark’s loafer, which he tosses into a drainpipe. (Alas, no boat shoe,) The workplace scenes of this drama are sketchily rendered in monochromatic or subdued palettes against white backgrounds. Projection screens, houseplants, copy machines, conference tables, ash trays, and desk lamps sit in oblique corners, as if lurking, or sit atop desktop landscapes, parallel to the picture plane, like Saul Steinberg’s deskscapes. “Collapse no. 1” shows a man’s hand, the fingers so stubby as to suggest a paw, and the arm seemingly boneless, grasping papers from a desk; it returns in the bronze sculpture, “The Sad Hand,” and the watercolor, “Deskscape Thursday 11:42AM.” In two “Copy Trouble” paintings, the small machines sit forlornly amid tangles of wires, smudged whiteboard messages or caption balloons, and grassy stubble emerging from the carpeting—nature invading culture?
Accompanying the paintings are bound copies of A Quarterly Report from the Forest Office, comprising the Narrator’s account of events in the forest office, and an Arden Valley Community Wellness Center report by John Touchstone, PhD, aka artist Anthony Discenza, on the patient’s treatment with Alprazolam and art therapy. Shakespearians will note the reference to the sylvan setting of As You Like It; all the world’s a stage, including the tragical-comical-pastoral office. —DeWitt Cheng