The genius of our post-modern economy, from products to digital media, is that it has trained us to think—with a lot of help from advertising—that everything we consume should be fast, easy, and disposable. As LA-based artist Desire Obtain Cherish (an alias of Jonathan Paul) reminds us in his second solo exhibition, Servant To Infinite Distraction, it’s an endless procession of shiny new toys designed to distract us from the black hole of unfulfillment behind it all.
The show, which opened during Freize Week at Unix Gallery in Chelsea, was pure visual seduction. Visitors understood this almost immediately, with the front room’s canvases full of swirling gobs of technicolor paint, and the androgynous white Neuro sculpture engulfed by masses of paint that had become felt-like through some electrostatic process. And Desire Obtain Cherish only reinforced the critique of instant gratification and almost criminal abundance with two works made with his signature arrays of pill gel caps, which depict beautiful flowery scenes of chemical-induced happiness.
“As people in a technologically advanced society, we are constantly bombarded with things to distract us. We’ve become modern junkies of sorts,” Desire Obtain Cherish tells The Creators Project. “We have Uber as our personal chauffeur, endless food delivery services, always sitting comfortably switching between the same three apps for hours, texting with friends and strangers worldwide never having to see anyone for days on end, wirelessly streaming every song ever made throughout all of time, and continuously imagine ourselves in situations that will never exist.”
“Happiness it seems, is always one click away,” he adds. “Servant To Infinite Distraction swims in this exhaustion without shame. These works are a dynamic response to this over stimuli and excess, exploring a the contemporary search for happiness amongst a sea of potential outlets for happiness that always seem to fall short. I have, we have, become servants to the distraction.”
Desire Obtain Cherish knows a thing or two about crafting desire. Though his early artistic works were installations on sidewalks, billboards and walls, he was originally a creative director at an advertising agency. It was in this role that he became acutely aware of the power of a posted billboard, and the message it conveys, as well as the restrictions media outlets have with what they can get away with.
“Having many of my ideas banned by various magazines and outdoor agencies for a message they deemed too controversial might have added to the slight ridicule that I've been accused of having in some of my works,” Desire Obtain Cherish says. “Either that or simply an understanding that quite simply, we like to get sold to. Sold to. Told to. I didn't used to believe it, but it seems undeniable to me now.”
“My early work was outdoor… everywhere I looked, it seemed, all the pictures on the streets in LA were unregulated ads with relentlessly repeated corporate images and slogans promising all of us infamy, status and a lot more flavor,” he adds. “The words DESIRE OBTAIN CHERISH, woven into this over abundant advertising landscape, spun these messages back at us, laughing at the absurd nature of our constant over-saturation of our corporate marketing brothers.”
As Desire Obtain Cherish's work moved into gallery exhibitions, he began exploring desires and obsession with sex, gender, drugs, commerce, media and fame. He is often moved by the simplest of conversations he has with people, picking up on the high levels of programming and naïveté in most people. For the artist, their stories generate different perspectives from which he can create work.
Rather fittingly, the artist easily gets bored with his materials. To keep things interesting, he habitually has to seek out new materials and applications.
For the canvas works in the exhibition, Desire Obtain Cherish spread over 100 pounds of oil paint across ten canvases, up to an inch thick in some parts. The prep for what he calls the “exploding flower pill pieces” involved the artist and his team photographing hundreds of flowers dipped in liquid nitrogen, then capturing them shattering like glass at the moment of impact.
“Each work is then comprised of 12,500 individually wrapped gelatin capsules that I purchase in bulk by the tens of thousands every month and I’ve probably used hundreds of thousands of pills in dozens of different artworks over the last few years,” Desire Obtain Cherish says. “Each pill has tiny paper squares that are cut, inserted, capped then glued to acrylic. Always a mathematical challenge and very laborious. 10,000 pills can take three months or so to perfect.”
And to prep for this show, as well as another in Los Angeles later this year, Desire Obtain Cherish upgraded his studio. The space is just shy of 7,000 square feet, so he added a paint booth, wood shop, and a plastic and mold-making facility to create works in resin.
“Everything is created here,” he says. “The sculptures of the Neuro children in this show were flocked. We electromagnetically adhere rayon fibers to an adhesive that covers the mannequins in a velvet like texture. It’s super messy but the flat colors we get feel very lux and compliments the super flat under paintings of the canvases.”
Desire Obtain Cherish insists that the sentiment for his series of oil paintings is that they desire nothing profound. They exist simply as a cathartic emotional response, with a significance that is lost to distraction. He sees the floral photographic still lifes as reminiscent of early Dutch paintings of bounty.
“Thousands and thousands of pills magnify the obsessive ostentatiousness that is still common today in our society where affluence means everything, and status prevails of possessing the desire of others,” he says. “Intoxicating images of indulgence and gorgeous still-lives [sic] of gluttony. A prescription for affluence. The sculptures of the children are consumed with a beautiful, velvety, luscious growth that they are seemingly unaware of. The wifi attached like a luxurious parasite.”
Despite this artistic dedication to themes of distraction, short attention spans and the pursuit of happiness, Desire Obtain Cherish endeavored to present these concepts loosely and in beautiful and seductive ways.
“I’m not trying to wake anyone up to change, or create works that show ugliness—there’s enough of that out there at the moment,” he says. “I guess if anything it's the feeling that all of the smallest moments that seem to pass us by can be the most beautiful and perhaps should be appreciated rather than expecting a big prize to fulfill us.”