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Meet Chuck Tingley, Whose Latest Exhibition Opened at 464 Gallery Last Weekend

Some of Chuck Tingley's works at 464 Gallery. (photos by Jim Bush)

Art is Dead

Art is Dead. That’s the name of the upcoming show of up-and-coming painter Chuck Tingley, though the artist himself doesn’t necessarily believe it. “Art is alive,” he concedes. Albeit endangered. “Art is living in a dying society,” he says.

In this time of short funding for the arts, this young artist’s choice to bring this particular body of work, based on unfunded and often unsanctioned street art, adds to the work’s irony and its political statement. It’s yet another turn in the evolution of Tingley’s short but productive career. The show opened April 22 at Gallery 464/Blink to a crowd of about 275. That’s not bad for a Friday night, competing against game five of the Sabres’ first round playoff series.

Tingley immediately sold three large canvases that night, including the portrait of Erie County Executive Chris Collins for which the exhibit is named. Smaller prints went flying too.

Tingley is so new on the local art scene, that the gesso is barely dry behind his ears, but he’s managed to take this craft that’s new to him and fast-forward through several incredibly productive phases that nearly number the seasons in which he’s been at it. Two years ago, he was a drawing student under the tutelage of local artist and Buffalo State teacher Nathan Naetzker, a gift to Buffalo in his own right, when Tingley considered taking up painting. Now he’s burning through canvases, creating whole bodies of work and then moving on to the next subject. “I believe if I pull off a series of anything, I can move on to the next thing,” he says.

Those “things” began with Emotional Effusion, his first show, in which larger-than-life faces rendered in perfect photographic reality bore some element of mood that manifested itself as a color—swallowing its subject, marring its beautiful face, or being spewed out in a fitting self-portrait. His next body of work was entitled Faux Tales. It depicted characters from classic childhood fiction and was a mixture of stencils paint and text. (More on Tingley’s use of text later.)

In between these series, for those who have been paying attention, Tingley would turn out a few transitional pieces, much like turning a corner. He would call these unfinished, but an observer standing a ways back from the career, not just the canvases, can see that these particular pieces signaled the turn.

Chuck Tingley's portrait of Erie County Executive Chris Collins sold at the opening of his exhibition of new work at 464 Gallery on Amherst Street. The series of work is titled "Art Is Dead."

And so comes Art is Dead.

There are several components to the collection: Some are wall murals of gritty street art, some are Warholesque canvases of iconic figures, some are patriotism-themed works, and some are ruins of statues Tingley has reworked. Within the canvases, there are series of slain presidents from intricate stencils Tingley has hand-cut, sprayed, and worked with layers and layers of acrylic to tell a story. Obama is featured, too, shot through with America’s colors, whereas the others simply show red. Tingley says he’s been worried about this president’s fate from day one.

In this body of work Tingley gives a nod to Banksy, the street artist. “He’s the Warhol of our times,” he says. Banksy’s extensive use of stencils make for street art with realistic images, a quick getaway, and an even quicker pun. “The beauty of a stencil is in the rewards,” Tingley says, noting that the preparation of the stencil is time- and labor-intense.

So Tingley brings the stenciled art inside, sometimes reworking it for just the right effect. He pulls out canvases and shows the evolution from a Chris Collins that merely looked like the devil himself to the final product, where the county executive still looks pretty much like himself but with eyes that are so liquid and maniacal that he begins to look like serial killer Ted Bundy. The effect is chilling. This is Tingley’s statement about the county executive’s cuts in the arts budget.

Before he brought his mature version of street art—not tags, not self-indulgent vandalism through paint—to a gallery, Tingley may have tried a stencil out on the street. “And then you suffer. There’s remorse,” he says. “There had to be a way to say things smartly…and legally. Taggers think legal artists have sold out because it defeats the underground, secret-society vibe, and I understand that somewhat, because streets don’t compete with a gallery. But there are some ugly tags out there. Even when it’s visually appealing, there’s a selfish element to it.”

Then there’s the culture gap between street and gallery. “Some of my friends were under the impression that they had to know something about art just to go to a gallery,” he says. But if Tingley had his way, galleries would serve as educational forums for art.

At any rate, Tingley likes and makes art that makes people think. In big part, that’s where the text comes in. Sure, there’s the trio of paintings of De Niro as Taxi Driver, Charlie Sheen, and the Burger King, but then there’s Hitler wearing Mickey Mouse ears. At first glance, it looks as though Tingley’s intent is to defang Hitler, but closer inspection of the text taken from news articles serves to vilify Disney for exploiting child labor. There’s the patriot portrait, a stencil of a small girl holding a flag and lying on her belly, knees bent and legs up. She gazes down into her own shiny reflection, which wears an army helmet, and the text that runs all up and down her arms is an obscure find that desctibes what it takes to be a good patriot.

While some of Tingley’s work can be taken at face value, many carry an ironic or humorous twist if you get close enough, or look long enough. That is part of what irks Tingley about online galleries; the presentation isn’t there, and the attention span is much too short.

Inaddition to being a student, Tingley has a day job making store displays, which he says interferes with his artwork. Doing store displays has him “working long hours, on a ladder half the day, in my big boy suit, faking the funk.” When it’s suggested that there are students at Parsons the New School of Design who are doing their four years and dreaming of a job like his, Tingley says, “Well, yeah, that’s why I ought to move over and let them have it.”

It’s not that he’s not grateful; it’s just that he has so much dust on his boots. “My game plan,” he says, “is to try to land some group shows for now, in New York, in LA.”

It’s not hard to imagine him doing just that—while being mindful of the fact that for the airfare it would cost to attend one of those future shows, you can own a Tingley right now. He’s eminently collectible. According to his mentor, Nathan Naetzker, Tingley is one of those students whose success proves to be a reward for his teacher. “Chuck has kept true to the first lessons we discussed in class—truth, beauty, craft and care for the traditions of drawing and painting,” Naetzker says. “All the while finding new ground and, more importantly, his own voice.”

With Art is Dead, Tingley wishes to add his own voice to a chorus that is calling for better funding of the arts in Buffalo and Erie County. “I want [art] to be in people’s faces,” he says. It frustrates him that iconic figures don’t include artists. “Art is part of humanity,” he says. “If art isn’t funded…”

Tingley’s work, including the video of the installation and the Art is Dead series, can be seen at Outside of regular business hours, Marcus Wise of 464 Gallery is happy to take appointments and arrange viewings. Call 983-2112.

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