Mike Lash’s “stated purpose behind his art is to ‘make stuff, mostly stuff that has no real reason to exist, but now, they do exist,’” Patrick Collier writes in introduction to Lash’s exhibition “Ugly Paintings,” on view for the time being at the Ugly Mug Diner, 122 Washington St., Salem, Massachusetts.

I first encountered Lash and his art years ago when he was based in Chicago, where he rose to become director of the city’s public art program. These days he resides in Salem, where he’s operated “Mike’s Museum,” at first an actual gallery, but now—if I understand correctly—more of a state of mind.

His new show has around 50 paintings done on squares of plywood depicting flowers, faces, whales, pigeons, and doodles suggesting penises or butts. They’re part child’s drawings, part bathroom graffiti. Atop each, he’s scrawled: “Ugly painting.”


“I firmly believe there is no such thing as an ugly painting,” Lash says—as quoted by Collier.

Right. But scrawling “Ugly painting” across each one, a friend I went with argued, helps you get past their purposeful ugliness to actually sort of seriously consider them. They’re “bad” paintings, and actually often quite annoying, but satires of fine art, offered with a kind of brazen, deadpan humor that’s unusual around these parts—but feels very Chicago.

At the Feb. 6 opening reception, I got into a conversation with Lash about what really makes a painting ugly. We circled around it for a bit. Finally, he said, “It’s harder than it looks.”

Photos by Greg Cook.

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Categories: Art