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Jim Drain’s knitted sculptures knowingly evoke the lost spirit of the ’60s

It’s not often these days that artistic references to 1970s politics, art and popular culture resonate any more deeply than as simple rote stylistic appropriation. Ditto with references to ‘60s psychedelia.

Jim Drain, in his fantastic and raw exhibition “I Wish I Had A Beak” at Greene Naftali in Chelsea, pursues these connections in a profoundly meaningful way, incorporating them into a timeline of his personal development. The upheavals, dissent and demands for change that contributed to the energy of the ’60s and ’70s, the arguments for inclusiveness and equal rights here find a home.

Knitted sculptures make up the lion’s share of the work on view. Intensely colored and patterned fabrics machine-knitted by the artist are stretched over shaped supports, stuffed and sewn. The sculptures are further embellished with beading, tufting, jeans-pocket patches and embroidery. ”Seahorse,” 2005 seems like a tea-cozy-gone-wild for a David Smith sculpture. Others, including “AIDS-adelic” and “Sourpuss,” both 2005, hit the bull’s eye in the way they wholeheartedly embrace their over-the-top flourishes and garish color combinations.

The decorative in this exhibition goes beyond a concern with surface, becoming thoroughly substantive. Toughly decorative works like Linda Benglis’ early glittery fabric knots and Robert Kushner’s meditative pattern paintings come easily to mind.

Other works, such as Drain’s “Sergio” and “Majestic Lips,” both 2005, take on a ritualistic importance. “Sergio” could easily conceal a lingam, the Hindu phallic symbol, within its fuzzy hot pink and orange fringes. Intense color vibrations of yellow, black, green and red striping in “Majestic Lips” are not unlike the sensations one might experience while puffing on a hookah. It isn’t incidental then that the form of the sculpture itself references a hookah.

Works are arrayed through the gallery like a forest of magical forms, which at any moment might begin spinning like dervishes, or whispering a wolf’s secrets.

The show is rounded out in a second room with a series of drawing, intensely collaged with material. Images cut from both porn magazines and People are combined with feathers, glitter and fabric scraps. Mutated Young Republicans mash up against images of flaming candles by Gerhard Richter, Indian shamans, and Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison. Sifting through it to create meaning couldn’t be more rewarding.

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Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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