Elmhurst Art Museum

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Home Past Exhibitions Billy Tokyo: The Shape of Things to Come/John Dempsey: Urban Nature

Billy Tokyo: The Shape of Things to Come/John Dempsey: Urban Nature

06.15.2012 - 08.25.2012

Billy Tokyo is John Dempsey. John Dempsey is Billy Tokyo. But you can call him Jack.


Billy Tokyo is the alias John Dempsey created in 2008 when commissioned to create illustrations for the Chicago Cubs. Concerned with pigeonholing himself in the world of commercial art, Dempsey created his alter ego to make artwork for festivals like Lollapalooza and South X SouthWest. Heavily influenced by Japanese Pop Art and the Chicago Imagists, Tokyo’s work is bright and complex. Embracing a psychedelic rainbow palette, Tokyo packs every inch of space with commentary on contemporary culture and skewers stereotypes with ample wit and humor.


John Dempsey’s paintings are equal parts graffiti and illustrative patterns that create vibrant and approachable landscapes. Using the landscape around him as inspiration, Dempsey abstracts landmarks into splatters, curves and outlines that reflect the artist’s inner feelings about urban locations.

The Museum’s exhibition, The Shape of Things to Come, is one of the most challenging installations of Tokyo’s career. Beyond including sculptural totems, drawings and paintings, Tokyo follows a long tradition among painters including Francisco Goya, John Singer Sargent and Pablo Picasso by reinterpreting Diego Velazquez’s painting Las Meninas (1656). Tokyo’s version follows an analysis of Las Meninas by French philosopher Michael Foucault, found in his famous 1966 book, The Order of Things. Tokyo uses Foucault’s theories of deconstruction and Velazquez’s composition to re-present the canon of art history in animated and radiant absurdity.


In this new work, Tokyo’s persona is a means to expand Dempsey’s style and explore themes that revolve around the search for a perfect and happy world that offers absolution and tranquility.   


Dempsey earned his BFA from the Ohio University. He has worked as a designer and artist for numerous clients and television shows. Now a full time artist, Dempsey enjoys a good dialogic conversation about the art world. He balances this by romping around with his one and a half year old son. His work The Great American Landscape, which will be on view for this show, took the top prize at the inaugural Chicago Art Loop Open.


Join us to celebrate the opening of The Shape of Things to Come and Urban Nature and other summer exhibitions on Friday, June 15 at 6:30 pm.

July 13, 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm, Artist John Dempsey walks visitors through his space and discusses the boundaries between his personalities and artistic output