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A hip-hop Lichtenstein with a Staples “Easy” button, contemporary artist Andre Woolery used thumbtacks to create the mosaics that make up his first solo exhibit, “Bruised Thumbs,” which opened at the Frontrunner Gallery in Tribeca last night. Woolery’s vibrant tribute to black music includes ornate portraits of icons such as Erykah Badu, Jimi Hendrix, Kanye West and Jay-Z, and the tacks embody the artist’s penchant for manipulating light and color with simple elements.
Take “The Tackover,” where Woolery drew inspiration from the Brooklyn marvel who transformed from ruthless hustler on his debut Reasonable Doubt to a mogul-slash-family man with street cred. “Jay-Z broke the mold and changed the way people perceived him. He allows young black kids who come from a similar environment to recognize their potential,” Woolery told SOTC at last night’s opening.
And where there’s Jay, there’s bound to be a ‘Ye: The familiarly pouty Kanye West has also been given Woolery’s tack treatment. Woolery hacked through the MC’s bombastic rep to channel his skill, originality and attention to detail into the piece itself. His sole non-tacked portrait is of hip-hop muse Erykah Badu, whom Woolery likens to transformative drug for artists, due to her trance-inducing lyrical prowess and natty girl allure. (Common and Andre 3000 would probably agree.)
The creative process isn’t a quiet one for Woolery, who plays the music of his subjects while working on their portraits. “It’s important to get that vibe and flow,” he says. “When you hear their voice, you end up taking it all in through osmosis and spitting back out.”
Should Woolery create a sequel collection, he would step back even further to honor the likes of Grace Jones, whom he calls “abstract herself. Her expression and abstraction helps recalibrate the mind.” And since Woolery has already put Jay to tack—what would a Blue Ivy Carter mosaic look like? “I’d have to focus on the hair. That baby looks like a grown person,” he says. “Beautiful eyes, but I’ve never seen a head of hair like that on a newborn.” As long as it’s put somewhere out of reach, it could be a solid piece for the Carter nursery.
“Bruised Thumbs” will be on display at Frontrunner Gallery through March 1.