Monday, July 4, 2016

A Review of IVES's "Fragments of Chanel" (2016)

Figure 1: IVES. “Fragments of Chanel 2016.” Source: 5&33 Gallery.

“Fragments of Chanel” (2016) is a painting currently being featured in 5&33’s gallery show that continues until September 30, 2016. The show, entitled "Street are Evolution, Inspired by Banksy" features many artists, all of whom are responding to Banksy in some way. The inspiration is clear early on: “Fragments of Chanel” (2016) has the same thick lines that Banksy uses, the same graffiti-esque look to it (despite having been painted with acrylic in addition to spray paint), and looks as if it could have been made with a stencil – the technique that Banksy uses. Yet equally interesting in “Fragments of Chanel” (2016) are the choices IVES makes that deviate from Banksy. Most notably, the painting is on wood instead of a concrete-like substance, and the wood has been painted so it becomes part of the painting, unlike graffiti where the graffiti arguably does not “belong” on the surface it is occupying. Additionally, however, and most significantly in the context of this critique: "Fragments of Chanel" is not making a quickly understandable statement, unlike the majority of Banksy's work.
Banksy’s graffiti is many things: beautiful, provocative, illegal, inspiring, the list goes on. But it is also easy to understand. It isn’t meant to be analyzed in depth like the Mona Lisa; Banksy is making a point, and it should be understood by the masses. 

Figure 2: Banksy’s Graffiti. Source: Google

Banksy's goal is clear and concise. On the other hand, “Fragments of Chanel” (2016) is not as easy to understand. The work requires more participation on the viewer’s part in order to derive meaning from the painting. The eventual meaning the viewer comes to is largely informed by the space in which the painting is found. As a Banksy-inspired painting, it is probably making some sort of comment on society as a whole. Unlike most of the other pieces in the gallery, however, it depicts an inanimate object: Chanel’s No. 5 is something we associate with the height of luxury and wealth. The fact that the perfume is fragmented can be seen, therefore, as a commentary on consumer culture.
There are two visual elements that help the viewer along with this interpretation. The first are the fragments of the perfume:

Figure 3 (brightened for clearer detail)

The perfume’s parts are either moving toward or away from each other. If the viewer were to assume the former, then the perfume seems to be coming together from disparate parts to create a cohesive whole. Conversely, the latter argues that the perfume is breaking down, perhaps because consumer society is not as solid as we expect it to be. Considering the context of the painting, the latter seems much more likely.
The second visual element that enforces the idea that “Fragments of Chanel” (2016) is a commentary on consumer culture is the glitch in the center of the painting:

Figure 4

Like the fragments, the glitch’s interpretation is largely left to the viewer. However, it is remarkably similar to a computer glitch (especially the double-typed E and M) that again seems to evoke a reference to consumer culture. The glitch reminds the viewer of computers, printing, and a whole host of modern-day doomsdays and the-government-is-watching-you conspiracies. Visually, it is very different from the fragments, and the eye is drawn to the glitch in the center of the piece. The glitch, like the fragments, captivates the viewer.
“Fragments of Chanel” (2016) seems to have an incredibly dense meaning in terms of its analysis of consumer culture, its potential commentary on how technology comes into play, its reference to Banksy and purposeful choices that diverge from the Banksy aesthetic. All of this creates a grand meaning about how consumerism is playing a part in society, and really asks the viewer to think critically about the painting. 
Or does it? 
Like many artists in our modern-day, technology riddled world, IVES has a blog ( On it, there is a short biography, a description of his foundation, and a portfolio of works. Figure 5 is a screenshot of some of the works in his portfolio.

Figure 5. IVES. Screenshot of

According to his biography, IVES started making graffiti art in 1996 and has been making his modern style of fragmented work since 2005. All of the thumbnails in Figure 5 and most of the thumbnails in the gallery (21 out of 30 photos) are in what turns out to be his trademark fragmented style. Many of them also have a glitch somewhere in the painting:

Figure 6. IVES. Selected works from

Thus the two characteristics that lent so much meaning to “Fragments of Chanel” (2016) are actually just IVES’s aesthetic. Though his artwork ranges from images of Donald Duck to images of “a fighter” to images of IVES’s friends and family, the same fragment-and-glitch technique is applied. The technique, therefore, seems to be less of a way to imbue Chanel's No. 5 with meaning than a gimmick that IVES knows and likes to use.
That is not to say that the viewer cannot draw conclusions about "Fragments of Chanel" (2016) (either with a knowledge of IVES's work or without it). A viewer can interpret "Fragments of Chanel" (2016) as a comment on consumer culture and a dissection of items of luxury. They may feel drawn to the painting for that reason, and they are totally within their right to do so. However, once the viewer becomes familiar with IVES’s other work, it is clear that an interpretation of "Fragments of Chanel" (2016) as a commentary on consumerism is less of IVES's own goal for the painting and more an interpretation that the viewer is making based on his or her own personal assumptions, experiences, and biases. And, while this interpretation can lend meaning to the viewer, it is not IVES's goal in the painting.
Others could, of course, disagree. One thing that makes "Fragments of Chanel" (2016) different from the rest of IVES's body of work is that it is a depiction of an inanimate object. Therefore, one could argue that his portrayal of Chanel No. 5 is important, because it is alone among the more portrait-like fragmented work he does. He could have chosen this specific item exactly because he wanted to make a commentary on luxury goods, on consumer culture, on how easily we purchase items like Chanel No. 5 without thinking about the broader social structures our money is supporting. As with all art, the viewer's interpretation is valid. However, this critique posits that IVES's goal, in choosing Chanel No. 5, is not to make any of these commentaries either.

Figure 7. IVES. “Fragments of L’Odeur.” Source:

Figure 7, “Fragments of L’Odeur” is not only a very similar painting to “Fragments of Chanel,” it even portrays the same subject: a bottle of Chanel No. 5, double E and all. Unfortunately, IVES’s website does not have information about when “Fragments of L’Odeur” was made, but it is the same type of painting, just done at a slightly larger scale. “Fragments of L’Odeur,” too, has more glitches and more fragments, so one could argue “Fragments of Chanel” is either a precursor to “Fragments of L’Odeur” or a simplification of the painting, depending on chronology.
It is somewhat disappointing, in light of how fresh “Fragments of Chanel” originally seems, to discover that not only are many of these ideas recycled from IVES’s previous art, but also that, because of the fact that they are recycled, the ideas do not mean as much as the viewer might initially assume. Certainly, artists can repeat techniques. But, if an artist chooses to do so, careful attention should be paid to how and where the repetition is going to take place – if not, any meaning derived from the repetition seems imposed by the viewer rather than portrayed by the artist. The viewer can, of course, assume whatever they want to assume about the painting, but in all likelihood, that was not IVES's main goal. The meaning the viewer derives from the artwork is not meaning imbued by IVES, but just a wistful interpretation on the viewer's part. Indeed, in light of IVES’s body of work, it seems as if he is sticking to what’s interesting and making him money rather than stretching boundaries or trying something new. And, while that is certainly well within his rights as an artist, it is somewhat of a letdown for the viewer.

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