By Madison Smart
With “POP ODY$$EY,” now on view at Deer Lake Gallery in Burnaby, artist Jay Cabalu seeks to reclaim his identity from mass media. Featuring over 20 collage works, Cabalu uses the visual language of Pop Art to bring a Queer-Asian viewpoint to the familiar imagery of magazines, comic books, and advertisements.
Just as the Pop Art movement began in the 1950s as a revolt against traditional modes of art and consumerism, Cabalu questions the status quo of what the media has fed him for most of his life. He then takes that fundamental framework and gives it a calculatedly contemporary slant.
“I’ve always thought that collage could speak more to my personal experience than any other medium,” Cabalu says. “Since I was a kid, I collected comics and magazines. It was my way of connecting with the world as a lonely immigrant. I think of magazines as capitalist propaganda- they are products that reinforce a lifestyle of buying more products. Artists struggle immensely under capitalism, so it’s very cathartic to repurpose these materials and reframe them on my terms.”
Vanity, social media, cancel culture, patriotism, and self-indulgence are all themes investigated in the intricate hand-cut collages that Cabalu has created over his 15 year career. Walking through “POP ODY$$EY”, you’ll notice a wide range of notable characters and pop culture references mixed with his new floral series.
The show’s title is a nod to Homer’s “The Odyssey,” and speaks to the span of the artist’s vision. As Lead Curator Jody Phillips explains, Cabalu went with the name because he feels “…like Pop Art shows tend to have very epic sounding titles.”
“The intentional quotation marks and logo come from how stories are titled in Archie comics, always in that format with block letters,” adds Cabalu. “I collected Archie comics as a kid, and they feature prominently in many of my works. The dollar signs are another reference to Pop Art, most notably Andy Warhol’s Dollar Sign paintings.”
While staying within the medium of collage, Cabalu’s recent transition into more floral works seems to have opened the frame of his expression. “I think I will always do portraits, but creating the florals, I felt a sense of freedom and renewed interest in collage, since I wasn’t working with any pre-composed structure.” Despite this shift, he hasn’t shied away from his continued critique of popular culture. “Jay’s florals deliberately reference consumer goods like Fitbits, beauty brands, alcohol brands and even guns,” Phillips says.
Cabalu’s collages are playgrounds of sorts, working through his own ideas of consumerism, socio-politics and self-representation through meticulous curiosity and decontextualization. In doing so, his identity has been incorporated in a type of dreamscape where he expels the solitude that mass media has notably projected.
“POP ODY$$EY” runs until May 28
For more details, visit burnabyartscouncil.org/deer-lake-gallery/current-exhibitions
Deer Lake Art Gallery: From Metrotown Station, take the #144 SFU bus to Rowan Ave, it’s a 5-minute walk from there!
To easily plan the route for your next artistic outing, you can use the TransLink Trip Planner.