Tregoning And Company presents Funny Money II
Who among us doesn’t think about money?
Josh Usmani’s “Funny Money” series began as political activism in the months following the economic collapse of 2008.
“I drew Joker faces on a few one dollar and twenty dollar bills. They were simple, and I would say now, more clever than wise. Once I heard of the punishment for defacing U.S. currency, I quickly abandoned the idea,” said the artist in conversation recently.
Years later Umani’s friend, the artist Omid Tavakoli encouraged him to explore this process from a more formal, artistic perspective. As he began drawing on different foreign currencies and various denominations as well, the infinite possibilities immediately became apparent.
Value continues to be an elusive mystery in the arts. By drawing directly on currency, the work inherently raises issues of value. Each bill has an assumed value before the artist begins the creative process. “Working on money seems to be the most direct way to engage the viewer in a dialogue in regard to the value of artistic merit and creative expression,” Usmani says. “The works are very much a collaborative effort. I view each note as beautiful print, and I approach each new bill from a reactionary perspective. Before I begin, I study each bill to determine what I will keep, and what will be changed.”
Usmani says the most common question asked of him is about whether his works are illegal. “The short answer is yes…Technically,” the artist says. “I stand behind my actions, however, and believe they are protected by both the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and countless cases of court precedence. My process is a creative act, not a destructive one.”
The work creates a debate between legality and morality. The blurry line becomes increasingly important in our society. Many of us deal with this internal conflict on a subconscious level many times throughout daily life, but Funny Money confronts the viewer with this dilemma in a very immediate and conscious manner.
This body of work is much more cohesive than the original Funny Money exhibition. The previous bills featured a great deal more experimentation. “In this series,” Usmani says, “I wanted to take everything I’d learned in more than 50 earlier works, and create what I consider to be the truest expression of my intention.”
Usmani’s personal interest in money stems from an impoverished background. “Throughout my life, money has been a source of stress, anxiety, angst, frustration. I was aware of my family’s money problems at an early age, and it forced me to grow up much faster than I probably should have. As an artist, value has continued to be a fascinating and immediate issue in my everyday life.”
“My intention is to put a ‘Big, red clown nose’ on the viewer’s worries.”
Funny Money II: Josh Usmani: May 15 – July 31.
Tregoning and Company
1300 West 78th Street
Cleveland, Ohio 44113