Dolla solo

In his new solo exhibit, artist Dolla Bill generously shares a part of his collection of stickers, or "peels." Peels by now are a well-integrated part of street art, and Dolla's own peel — an iconic face of the Dalai Lama — has graced Buddhist magazines as well as art magazines, and shows up frequently in other places. The Dalai Lama's smiling face, eyes set wide apart, lightens the load by injecting a sense of humor into the darker aspects of the work, but also burdens it with references to the sublime spirituality espoused by the Lama. Dolla's reference could not be more timely, as the questions asked in this book apply directly to the here-and-now, and apply in many ways to Dolla's work itself.

For Dolla Bill has created a whole parallel world that BoldHype successfully allows you to enter. Dolla's world is a postmodern one, full of antiheroes with names like "Creep Ball," "Stabber," "Bumblz" and "Gimme the Loot." You get the picture: These are street characters with demeaning, iconoclastic monikers, still proud and rebellious, but at the same time below the line; in short, creeps.

Childlike creeps, too — their stature and proportions are those of children, or even cartoon kids caught pulling the cat's tail. When their bellies are showing, these unfortunates often have a sagging, deformed navel, as if ripped too soon from their umbilical cords, waiting for another feeding perhaps, or waiting for the doctor to sew them up and bring them back into society. The utter otherness of these images seeps through in so many ways that the mental echoes of screams, fights, gunshots and sirens ring in one's ears the longer these creatures are contemplated.

"Creep Fancy Dancer," "Creep Claws" and others are rendered in stark, high-resolution slickness and portrayed with all their anger and vulnerability showing. Their upper teeth appear in sneers and pouts; their eyes are not quite able to confront the viewer. They sport hoodie sweatshirts and are frequently snarling with rage. The world of these misfits is way beyond Blade Runner; it is a hopeless and nihilistic world, and the death-mask motifs that Dolla transforms out of perf plates further accentuate the dark narratives of life lived below the line.

But — they are so beautiful, and his sensitivity to colors is so rich and varied that even though the overt emotional tone of these pieces is heavy, one cannot help but feel a joy and attachment to them. Dolla's genius as an artist is to remove nearly all traces of the human hand from his work by using masks, spray paint and clear cartoon images — no painterly touches here; no smudges, drips or mixes. Drips are relegated to the brick wall behind the works and further remove the art from a sense of making, placing it in a different realm. By doing so, Dolla confines the emotional content of the work to his development of the characters themselves, and he does this incredibly well. The push-pull of street art is about its anti-commercialization, and by completely turning this premise upside-down, Dolla's pieces make for an excellent capture of some relevant questions about art in our time.

In the old economy, content seemed to be unimportant, and items like Damien Hirst's crystal skulls made the covers of art magazines. Content has now become relevant again, and as people spend more time at home, they are surrounding themselves with pieces that stand the test of multiple readings over time. Whether Dolla's work does this or not is up to the viewer, but the edge between street art and gallery art has been successfully crossed here, linking the show to some of the more relevant names in street art today — Shepard Fairey, Barry McGee and others.

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