I probably became aware of John Whipple’s art at one of the Gasparilla Art Festivals in Tampa years ago. I say probably because Whipple images have been stuck in my brain box so long, I forget when they first imprinted there.
I was also a sidewalk artist and used early Sunday mornings to see the shows for myself. With only so much time and 300 artists to check out, it became necessary to filter out all decorative, derivative, functional and cute art.
Really important art like John’s doesn’t just call to you; it whacks you in the back of the head. At some point, I had a hot prickly sensation that someone was staring at me. Turning, I saw a booth full of medium-size dark portraits. Moving closer, I realized it was they who had been staring. I could not walk away, but was drawn into their private world and John Whipple’s.
“Merde, but this guy can paint!” I said to no one. But more than technical bravura, John’s art snags us first with humor and familiarity and only then do we get a glimpse of the edginess. It’s like a black comedy when a guffaw suddenly sticks in the throat.
Of course, the mastery is that we recognize something human in those odd characters - our own foibles and shortcomings. We identify with them and we laugh.
John’s art is now in exhibition at Antieau Gallery in New Orleans. Titled Misfits, the show opens Saturday evening, November 19, tonight.