Despite its title, Andy Warhol’s 1965 underground lm, My Hustler, is not, as far as I can tell, one of the many cinematic references in Stephen Chow’s 2004 madcap action comedy, Kung Fu Hustle. Yet, the work of these two artists—Chow and Warhol—both make appearances in MADSAKI’s latest exhibition, and the two lms, as different as they are, help to de ne the logic which structures much of his work: that of the wannabe or hustler.
The majority of MADSAKI’s latest exhibition consists of works inspired by Andy Warhol, along with a selection of paintings depicting stills from Hong Kong cinema classics like Kung Fu Hustle and Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood For Love. MADSAKI, like Warhol before him, is skilled in the art of the hustle, and knows a fellow hustler when he sees one. Thus, where his previous copies of art historical “masterpieces” served to shore up the elitism of the western canon, MADSAKI’s reproductions of Warhol’s Flowers, Skulls, Guns, Dollar Signs, and Brillo Boxes stay much closer to the spirit of their sources, whichwerethemselvesoftencopiesofsomefardistantoriginal.To Warhol, images were not sacred and implacable but something to be passedaroundlikecommoncoin.Hebelievedmeaningtoalwaysbe in the particulars: in the vagaries of execution and amongst variations on a basic theme. This is one of the great lessons of his thirty-two paintings of cans of Campbell’s soup: things can look the same on the surface and still be very different underneath.
Though MADSAKI’s reproductions share the basic composition, coloration, and size of Warhol’s paintings, it is the differences—in execution, tone, and feeling—that make them his own. The primary distinction comes from the variation between artists’ two signature mediums: silkscreen for Warhol and spray paint for MADSAKI. “It’s really hard to express what could be expressed through silkscreen with a spray can,” MADSAKI explains, “so I’ve got to add my own avor.” Though he’s a wizard with the spray nozzle, MADSAKI admits that his current approach to the medium is “totally wrong” in the sense that he employs it more as a “brush” than it would be in graf ti or street art. His spray techniques leave much more room for contingency and happy accidents, resulting in splatters and drips that add texture, atmosphere, and sometimes even emotional heft to his paintings.
This is particularly evident in MADSAKI’s versions of Warhol’s Double Elvis, 1963, and The Last Supper (The Big C), 1986. Though Warhol also used spray paint to create the silver background of his Double Elvis, MADSAKI’s use of the medium creates a much more painterlyandimpressionisticappearance,therebyabsorbingthe doubled gure into the overall composition and pushing the painting closer to the realm of moody abstraction. Created in the nal year of Warhol’s life, The Last Supper (The Big C) was painted entirely by hand, a return to an earlier mode of production inspired by Warhol’s recent collaborations with Jean-Michel Basquiat. It has also recently been revealed to be one of Warhol’s most introspective and mournful works,layeredwithcodedreferencestotheartist’sambivalent feelings about his Catholic faith as well as to the escalating AIDS crisis. (In 1986, HIV/AIDS was still disastrously mislabeled as “the gay cancer,” and cancer was colloquially referred to as “The Big C.”) Though painted over thirty years later and in response to an entirely different set of personal and cultural prompts, MADSAKI’s interpretation of the painting manages to sustain, and in some ways underscore, its twin themes of suffering and salvation. By replacing Christ’s downcast gaze with his signature “drippy smiley eyes,” MADSAKI makes the painting at once more irreverent and more sorrowful than the original. Astonishingly, MADSAKI’s small modi cation manages to push Warhol’s composition closer to the tone and tenor of Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle, proving the notion that, in the right hands, the art of the hustle can pave the way to enlightenment.