The Timeless Art Of The American Past: New Prints From JP Greenwood Are In The Shop
Americana is a pretty vague descriptor for the objects that help to define our way of life in the United States, and why shouldn’t it be, considering how vastly diverse our collective experiences are? One could say that the material relics of our existence can only decorate our memories, that they are only trimmings in the stories we tell about the past, but even the most mundane items can be packed with life and significance if we let them—that’s both the power and the pitfall of sentimentality.
Some things only bear importance to the individuals who gave it to them in the first place—a child’s favorite colored pencil is just a regular one to anyone else—but there are others that call up a more universal significance. Gas and oil cans fit the latter description, and they present an interesting dichotomy of emotion when they’re portrayed in this aged condition. There is of course the inextricable link between literal fuel used to move around and the more figurative sense of freedom and potential provided therein, but what JP Greenwood has achieved in these prints is a bit more than that. These series of photographs, shot in medium format with Hasselblad equipment in the studio, are at once nostalgic and timeless; the subject matter is literally rusted, crumpled, dented, scuffed, thoroughly and fully “used,” while the presentation and printing of such items is meant to endure, immortalizing these bits of Americana before they’re fully corroded.
Combine this with the fact that these cans were designed for a very fleeting purpose—to hold a quart of oil and remind you of the brand name while you shopped in the store or poured the stuff into your motor—and these photographs become a sort of defiance, a means for us to resist the uncaring march of time that gets rid of these throwaway goods as the years pile on. I’m not trying to get all gushy about the past or encourage hoarding though, what I’m trying to say is that art has a power to preserve not necessarily physical things, but the way physical things make us feel, the emotions that come with seeing an old can of motor oil just like your grandpa used to stock in the garage.
There’s also the interesting relationship between advertising and artwork—where are the differentiating lines drawn? If something was meant to catch your eye in order to make you purchase it, who’s to say artwork for the sake of artwork can’t be the best way to advertise? Maybe something that has a purity of intention will be co-opted later for a very different purpose (music comes to mind, think about Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” for instance), the opposite is certainly true, just look at Warhol’s work with cans of soup. JP Greenwood’s series of oil and gas cans seem to fall into that bucket—advertising material turned into “pure” art—and beyond the pseudo-philosophy that I’ve been spouting in reaction to them, they’re simply great pieces to look at if you don’t feel like thinking about impermanence in that particular moment.
There are three sizes of prints for each item portrayed here, and all make use of museum-grade photographic paper and archival pigment inks to present the rich colors and details of the patina. The small sizes are unlimited, but there will only be 50 of each medium print, and 25 of each large (limited editions are signed and numbered).