Entering M. LeBlanc on Fullerton, I was greeted with an open door leading to a flowing A/C. To my left, there was a small box of disposable blue paper masks, and a hand sanitizer pump.
“730 – it means you crazy.” – “Ebonics,” Big L.
The title of the show, and its accompanying description via an Urban Dictionary screencap in a one page handout― are a welcome joke, seemingly cognizant of their placement in a white-walled gallery, the type of space that too often prioritizes White colonial attitudes, and more recently, White viewers eager to sift through trauma to learn about Blackness. The silliness of Urban Dictionary, paired with the “necessity” of the handout and casual description of the forthcoming experience, prime the viewer.
Referencing “Ebonics” by Big L for the title is a clue―in the song, Big L defines a bunch of slang terms used in rap and Black culture in Harlem in the 90’s. The song is fun, smart and one of his first mainstream successes. Not only did it create a historical record of language for later generations, but it’s also a masterclass in sound, rhythm and verse. As a title for Spratley’s show, the song lays the foundation for the viewer to consider their greed for depictions and definitions of Black pain and trauma, for teaching and preaching. It prompts the White viewer to consider why they search for the non-confrontational, non-accusatory entry points for our White participation, and eventual appropriation, of Black culture.
M. LeBlanc’s ornate, cracked, venetian patterned tile floor, black painted tin ceiling, and sleek, rectangular fluorescent lights form a rigid and delicate halo over a room of seven paintings. All similar sizes; seven faces and fourteen large, tired, glaring eyes are pried apart, propped up, and leaned on by an array of hands― most are White, old, and arthritic.
In the first room there are seven devils; one white, one black, two red, one green, one blue, and one a light, naturalistic beige. They hang higher than normal on the walls, looking down at you. They grimace and jeer, their cheeks seem to protrude into space. Fossilic collaged hands against opaque acrylic skins disrupt the starkly illustrated expressions. Edges of canvases are adorned with collaged images of barbed wire, pink glittery stars and some midazolam hydrochloride syrup bottles. The eyes are tired, the characters beneath may contain multitudes, but what you’re seeing are masks.
In a statement for the show, the devil paintings are referred to as “D’Evils”, as vessels born from misery and despair. Splotchy, irritated blood vessels inflame every eyeball, set flatly in faces that look to be carved from stone. Together, the room of D’Evils smile, or curls their lips at the viewer― and whether you take that personally or imagine them sneering back at the artist himself, is up to you. They are emotional, unblinking facades; they’re tired of explaining themselves.
In the second room, a large, shattered interior of Dale Earnhardt’s fatal car crash, a black and a white Michael Jackson, and a Heaven’s Gate suicide are available for your viewing pleasure. Cameron Spratley’s work is brazen and playful, delicate and rough, and when you enter the space, for a change, the eyes are on you.