18

– Summer 2008

Hole-ly Moly: The Work of William Pope.L

Nato Thompson

William Pope. L, Art After White People: Time, Trees & Celluloid…', 2007, Santa Monica Museum of Modern Art, installation view. Courtesy of the artist.

William Pope. L, Art After White People: Time, Trees & Celluloid…', 2007, Santa Monica Museum of Modern Art, installation view. Courtesy of the artist.

William Pope.L performs. He writes. He paints. He produces socially engaged road shows. He teaches. All of it and everything else comes falling off a counter top into his milieu. He is robust. At times he trails off into a world one can't come to grips with, and at other times he swerves back into the most topical of details. His work leaves no doubt that, as an artist, he can't help but do what he does. Or maybe, more appropriately, he can't do it any other way. It resonates as the result of a deeply unstrategic modus operandi. In a world where artists, reasonably so, are cautious in the steps they take, his oeuvre is aggressive, clumsy, tangible and human. He is one of the few true 'artists' I know. I have a sceptical view of this mythological figure: the artist, a person so hypnotised by the madness of linguistic and cultural meaning that he or she takes it all on at once and runs the danger of either narcissistic obscurity, career-riddled resentment or hyper-futility. It clearly is risky to grab hold of one's dreams and take them for reality. Such a free-market notion of artistic creation is both convenient for collectors and the death knell for any reasonable person. Follow your dreams and, unless you are rich, wind up in the poorhouse. With all that said, I think William Pope.L actually does follow his dreams despite the fact that his dreams are terrifying, paradoxical and saturated with a wet emptiness.

When he crushes up language with his saws, grinders, paintbrushes, spray-paint or mouth, where does it go? Look over his work of the

Footnotes
  1. William Pope.L, 'Hole Theory', in Mark H.C. Bessire (ed.), William Pope.L: The Friendliest Black Artist in America, Cambridge and London: The MIT Press, 2002, p.79.

  2. Ibid.

  3. For more information on Black Factory, see http://www.theblackfactory.com (last accessed on 3 April 2008).

  4. Slavoj Žižek has often used Coca-Cola and Diet Coke as a tangible example of how capitalism survives on lack. His lecture at the European Graduate School in 1999 was based on this idea. See http:// www.egs.edu/faculty/zizek/zizek-superego-and-the-act-1999.html (last accessed on 19 March 2008).

  5. Adam Nagourney and Patrick Heal, 'Clinton Accuses Obama Camp of Distorting Her Words', The New York Times, 13 January 2008.

  6. Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1989, p.82.