Joey Wolf

Sunset to Sunrise

December 12, 2020

In his new body of work, Joey Wolf unifies color, contrast, texture and depth to transform oil paint into glowing neon signs that resonate with chill SoCal vibes. After meticulously shading and highlighting his background paintings, Wolf deftly pipes out tubular lines of bright light without actually using any neon pigment. The resulting trompe l’oeil imagery pulsates with the essential millennial aesthetic, as much as Drake’s James Turrell-influenced “Hotline Bling” music video does, and countless LED-drenched TikTok bedrooms. This distinctly California-influenced aesthetic has made its way around the world thanks to the Internet, with images of palm trees, avocados and weed populating retail spaces and Instagram feeds from Stockholm to Seoul. It feels natural that Wolf, a Southern California native, would embrace these icons.

But while the popularized aesthetic is awash in pale pinks and golds, the reality of neon signs in the visual vernacular of Los Angeles, and in Wolf’s employ, is more nuanced: neon lights illuminate diners and bars, bowling alleys and strip clubs throughout the darker hours of the night. Just as these landmarks of the city cut straight to the point — GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS, Ice Cold Beer — so do Wolf’s paintings, which forego subtext in favor of electric directness sprawled across desaturated auras.

As with his figurative paintings, Wolf can’t help but retain a spirit of incandescence, which in the neons is exemplified by his carefully crafted backgrounds. Wolf develops the foundation for the neon paintings in subtle hues to eectively balance the pinks and greens that create his fluorescent glow. As ever, Wolf’s sophisticated technical ability is unified seamlessly with his selected imagery, which feels personal, classical, and profoundly contemporary.

Joey Wolf (b. 1987, Newport Beach, CA) juxtaposes historical European painting techniques and composition with twenty-first century tableaus in his meticulous renderings of candid social scenes and contemporary iconography. The imagery in Wolf’s paintings is labored and rich, with large layered and textured surfaces constructed with sculp- tural physicality. Acting as classically rendered glimpses of contemporary life, Wolf elevates these visual instances to a grand painterly scale. Expansive, virtuosically produced, and revealingly narrative, Wolf’s paintings fuse flawless skill with content-rich pop imagery.