By Miller, Francine Koslow
Artforum International , Vol. 45, No. 3
After five years of painting on guitars and two and a half years of portraying musicians, Boston's Joe Wardwell staged his own rock/art "concert" of sorts. The artist paired his new raucous, romantic oil paintings and the elegant drawings that make up his "A Heavy History," 2006, with a handpainted electric guitar finished in gold leaf and a vintage phonograph playing his latest vinyl album, Full Length, 2006, which showcases his rasping, guttural voice, booming bass-playing and drumming, and boisterous guitar riffing.
"A Heavy History," a series of sixty-nine small sepia-toned pencil-and-ink drawings, constitutes a graphic and painterly assembly of musical big names--from Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, Tom Waits, and Blondie to Nashville Pussy and the White Stripes--that have inspired Wardwell's combination of heavy metal, garage rock, and grunge. Pinned to the wall in time-line style, their placement determined by their subjects' careers, the loosely rendered studies look like a salon of miniature posters, advertising everything from mainstream rock to obscure doom metal. The best of these images--a portrait of Tom Waits at the piano (based on an Annie Leibowitz photograph), for example--capture the icons' raunchy genius with enormous energy.
Many of the characters in "A Heavy History" reappear in Wardwell's more ambitious larger paintings. The Heaviest Painting in the World, 2006, a four-foot-square oil, situates an operatic assemblage of heavy-metal musicians within an appropriation of an allegorical fresco by Tiepolo. …