'Aerodynamic Karaoke' and the curious imagination of Dietrich Sieling


Welcome to Dietrich Sieling's imagination, a world populated with grape Oreo ice cream, shirtless bearded women, and antelope men. It's a world of startling shapes, dizzying line patterns, bright colors, and curious thoughts. It's a surprising world that doesn't always make sense, except that it does if you just go with it. 

Sieling, an artist living with autism, currently has an exhibition at Bockley Gallery titled "Aerodynamic Karaoke," named after a song by electronic music duo Daft Punk. According to gallery owner Todd Bockley, the show was inspired by fantasy food items and other loves, as well as fears.

The centerpiece of the show is a long thin table with plates of food painted on it. Items have handwritten labels, including grape Oreo pie, giraffe Oreo pie, and banana Oreo pie. Each plate has a pattern and color scheme that corresponds with it, and are imbued with an emotional exuberance that overtakes both the images themselves and the almost unreadable lettering that frame the plates. 
By the end of your visit to the gallery, you will surely be curious to try this mysterious grape Oreo flavor, as it repeats as a theme in a number of the pieces. You may even find yourself asking, "Why has Nabisco not marketed this concept?" 

The grape Oreo appears once again in the mixed-media work on paper titled Woman Shirt Off Uptown Diner. At the center of the image is a person -- the title implies that it's a woman -- with long hair and what seems to be a beard. She's got a pig-snout nose, and her breasts and stomach are outlined by rounded rectangles. On either side of her are the words "Uptown Diner," along with descriptions of different dessert items, including grape Oreo ice cream, grape frosting, and Oreo water. While it may not be entirely clear what is literally going on in the piece, it's definitely joyful. The way that Sieling constructs the shapes in the work draws you in -- perhaps because of the strangeness of it all.

Another piece where the grape Oreos appear is called Purple Grape Oreo Shirt, which Bockley says is most likely a self-portrait of the artist. In it, a man with orange-tinted glasses smiles at the viewer. His shirt is covered with purple circles, the word "Oreo" written on them. In the background of the piece are intense scribblings of words, including "Oreo" and "grape." Like in Woman Shirt Off Uptown Diner, it carries with it a hopefulness and a pleasure in life. Sure, it's odd. But it makes you forget that it's odd, because it's a different reality from everyday life.

Bee Sting Woman Lindsey Shirt Off
Bee Sting Woman Lindsey Shirt Off

In addition to the colorful pieces, there are a number of black-and-white works that are really stunning. In

Big City Traveler, Shirt Off Woman

, Sieling portrays a figure outlined with white lines, the head at the top center and the torso taking up the entire width of the paper. At the top is written "I like the City" and "Shirt Off Woman." The proportions of the figure -- the way it's kind of squashed into the borders of the piece -- are rather unnerving. Like many of his works, he defies convention and favors an aesthetic that truly stems from the imagination. It's as if we are seeing an image straight from his thoughts, without the filters of tradition. It's refreshing and irresistible.

Another black-and-white piece is Bee Sting Woman Lindsey Shirt Off where a woman seems to be riding a bicycle, and on her mouth is a bee. According to Bockley, Sieling is terrified of bees, and their presence is repeated several times throughout the exhibition. 

Other interesting works include Antelope 2011 where the animal's eye is a kind of house, Untitled featuring bearded figures with turbans and green patterned bathing suits, Plan B, Shirt Off Woman depicting a monster-like figure with a green head and yellow body, and Toilets of the World, which utilizes geometric shapes and line patterns to depict a female robot-like figure in a fantastical bathroom.

The titular piece, Aerodynamic Karaoke is perhaps one of the most simple in the entire exhibit. It looks like a green-and-red flag, with the words "Doo Doo Doo..." repeated throughout. The letters are colored purple and turqoise. You can imagine Sieling either listening to a song, or thinking about one as he makes the words into a tapestry on the page. It is virtually a visual depiction of happiness. 

If you get a chance, check out this rather breathtaking exhibit. In addition to it being a wonderful experience, many of the works are modestly priced and would make great holiday gifts. Bockley Gallery is located in Kenwood, at 2133 W. 21st St. The space is open noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.

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