The final act of the Pandemic Paintings collection by XVALA.
In 2020, everyday life became something that modern humans had only imagined, a time that few of us ever expected to experience. Entire cities were forced to shelter in place as a deadly pandemic raced across the globe, yet modern technology allowed like-minded people—for better and worse—to continue communicating. A shared recognition of flawed leadership and unjust enforcement of it led to a summer of angry protests, and riots erupted when attempts were made to suppress them. Autumn, too, brought sharp conflict between factions and desperate grasps for power in the highest seats of government. Jobs were in scarce supply and many, unable to work, watched their financial foundations drain away without hope of recovery. By the end of the year, we saw a historic increase in murders as fearful and frustrated citizens clashed in their desperation simply to survive. Even the very earth was literally shaken, burned, and lashed with storms.
With their mandated quarantines, Los Angeles, New York, and other large cities had effectively become prisons for millions. Those who dared to go out often became embroiled in conflict. Their movements might be traced and recorded. If they didn't comply with official guidelines, they might be refused service or even charged with crimes. Many fled the cities in search of a safer way of life, but no place on earth was unaffected by the upheaval. In November the New York Post reported, "The escape from New York is fueled not only by coronavirus concerns, but economic worries, school chaos, and rising crime."
The Post reporter wasn't the only one who saw the mass dissatisfaction and struggle as a search for escape. In the midst of this unprecedented year, the artist XVALA was reminded of the films Escape from New York and Escape from L.A. by director John Carpenter. He describes the origin of his idea: "During lockdown, I would watch streamed movies and then look at the news and see all the rioting, looting, and burning in cities like New York and Los Angeles. It was a convergence of science fiction from the past with real life in the present to send a warning about our future." He recognized an opportunity to tell the story of 2020 through the lens of the films and immediately began bringing his vision to the canvas.
Some might call paintings inspired in part by films derivative, but XVALA embraces this critique because he believes that ultimately all art is, in a sense, derivative. It must always originate in some idea outside of and preceding its own existence. In fact, XVALA calls his studio the Meme Ranch—in a similar vein as Andy Warhol's Factory—because, as he says, "Art is the first meme to make it out of the cave. Somewhere between fire and the wheel, we invented art. And the idea of art has survived all those years from when we were living in caves until now. I'm just doing what we've always done: acknowledging that the real force behind art is memes. That's why I make my art at a Meme Ranch."
XVALA's vision has always been focused on the ways that we shape the postmodern, technological world and that it, in turn, changes us—often in negative ways, and often without us even noticing. His works examine our surveillance, lack of freedom, and forced conformity under both governments and big technology. His previous collections include Fear Google, No Delete, and New World Order. This pair of works, collectively titled Escape from 2020, is a culmination of XVALA's Pandemic Paintings collection, all of which was created during 2020 and relates directly to our collective experience of the year. Both pieces are luminescent oil stick on canvas and, at 55 x 85 inches, use a fusion of iconography from classic art, the films, the pandemic, and the cities they represent to create the gestalt of classic movie posters.