The Chicago street artist is back in London’s Maddox Gallery with Vivus II – a dazzling and thoughtful evolution of his trademark abstractions.
The crowds defied freezing weather last week to pack into Lefty Out There’s Vivus II exhibition preview in Mayfair, suggesting that contemporary art has lost none of its edge, with Maddox Gallery remaining its sharpest blade.
Europe was introduced to Chicago artist Lefty back in 2019, when his Vivus I show opened in London, giving audiences a first taste of the abstract squiggles that characterise his work – an extension, Lefty says, of his “high-contrast” personality and “organised-chaos” way of living. Back then, the show demonstrated a successful transfer of his street art-inspired oeuvre to the canvas; and Vivus II is a clear evolution from that collection: the same trademark organic polymorphs, but an increasingly sophisticated experimentation with where the form can be taken. Or, as the gallery puts it, a shift from an expression of “the excitement of being alive” to a more considered representation of our current environment with a “jarring intensity that reflects universal tensions.”
The show is vivid and immersive. The artist possesses a vital attribute in today’s art market – his works are immediately recognisable yet traverse an impressively wide range, from monochromatic Op Art to retro-infused Modernism, to neon and fluoro panels, all of which could only have been created by Lefty. The ground floor is given over to monochromatic works, including Octo – eight birch panels, the sides spray-painted in gradients to create an optical illusion that messes with our sense of where the shadows should fall; and Iris (grayscale) – clean circular lines that dissolve on the upper half of the piece into polymorphs.
Downstairs, one enters a technicolour wonderland. The full-colour stripes adorning all the walls would drown lesser works; here, the dayglo, neon and primary-colour modernist palettes more than hold their own. We’re given 3D glasses to offer a different perspective on the works; and Pontis – a striking blend of op-art and retro modernist lines – unexpectedly jumps out into multiple layers of depth. Arca – a red and black canvas – is covered with a fluorescent lucite panel, and takes some time to understand what we’re looking at. Mismatched layers on Acidum Rubrum, Intra and Extra creating a jarring, disorientating effect that is brilliantly effective both close-up and at distance.
Jay Rutland, Creative Director of Maddox, tells Effect: “As soon as I saw Lefty’s work, I was struck by the precision and craftsmanship involved. His interlocking designs seem to endlessly multiply and there is a distinct visual similarity between them and Keith Haring’s large form murals that intrigued me. I think he will make an important impact on street art, as he continues to incorporate different art historical styles into the genre.”
Lefty (born Franco Campanella) began this journey by spraying and stencilling his intricate patterns on walls across Chicago. He maintains his mission is to “cover everything” – and this includes some pretty rarefied real estate, including the offices and installations of brands like Nike, Samsung and Google. “Brand collaborations are a central part of being an artist nowadays,” says Rutland, “and Lefty really leverages that importance.” He adds: “It is a serious decision to collaborate with a brand as it is essential that the artist shares the same values and aesthetics as the company they are partnering with – but this is a selection process that Lefty undergoes rigorously.”
So strong is the sense of Lefty as a brand himself that it seems these are collaborations in the true sense: a meeting of equals. At the preview, his distinctive polymorphs are everywhere: on his suit, on the bottles behind the bar, etched into Maddox’s glass façade; and it doesn’t seem a stretch to believe that the now-L.A.-based artist really will succeed in his mission to cover everything.
Vivus II by Lefty Out There is on at the Maddox Gallery, 9 Maddox Street, London, until 5 May 2022