In The Waiter’s Lament, Joe Speier mines different roles of the overworked artist. To make a living, like many artists, Speier waits tables. He most recently worked at a restaurant in a Museum of Art. In this new series, developed during the 2020 pandemic, Speier uses, in bulk, Bic ballpoint pens on canvas, the same he hands to diners to sign checks at restaurants. He also utilizes flatware and napkins, found in fine dining establishments. Such materials, intrinsically tied to the exchange between diner and server, turn the canvas into a table setting, forcing the viewer to reconsider the painting’s indexical relationship to consumption, labor, and distribution. For Speier, artists and servers cater to the same milieu: patrons seeking hospitality and entertainment. In his practice, Speier blurs the lines between these seemingly disparate modes of labor.
Intrinsic to Speier’s art is affordable craft associated materials such as store-bought canvases, beads, glitter, and acrylic medium. These material choices speak to a common vernacular, which he phrases as “a shared economy of artistic and therapeutic gestures,” seen in You-Tube painting tutorials or the doodles of a bored co-worker. This alchemical material play results in the stylistic imitation of the Abstract Expressionists. A tongue in cheek jab to those artists of the ‘50s and ’60s, Speier is interested in the performance of modernist cliches to deconstruct the myth of the artist. In 2020, how does the artist eat? As the rift grows between emerging artists and the blue-chip market, Speier asks critical questions related to class, value, and taste.