The images in Samuel Stabler's work on display at Converge Gallery, 140 W. Fourth St., will be familiar to many - one is Jacques-Louis David's "Napoleon Crossing the Alps" and the other is a combination of scenes from "Easy Rider" and "The Searchers" - but the way they're rendered is strikingly different: they're painted to look like they were colored in with yellow highlighter.
"When I apply the highlighter [pigment], I am making these works my own and making them contemporary because the [color] is a new invention of the last 50 years," he said. "I think it's the perfect color for the atomic- and service-sector economy age."
The first artworks Stabler completed in this style were made with highlighter markers - yes, the kind that most students use on a daily basis - but he wasn't happy with the result.
A close-up image of Samuel Stabler's version of 'Napoleon Crossing the Alps' is shown. The work is on display at Converge Gallery, 140 W. Fourth St., until Dec. 22.
"With the early works from this series, I used actual highlighters to create the neon, but I discovered reasons why that wouldn't work in the long term, so the process evolved," he said.
That reason being that the color was too inconsistent. But he still liked the radioactive feeling of the works enough to continue reproducing a similar effect with acrylic paint.
"With the paint, I can control how I vary the neon tones," he said.
Stabler's use of famous images is a tribute to the power of the original works.
"This is a way for me to pay homage to great artists who came before me," he said.
It's also a way to teach people more about historical people and events.
"I draw Napoleon a lot because he is one of those larger-than-life characters that everyone knows about, but few people today actually know what he did," Stabler said.
As for his drawings based on classic films, Stabler likes to play with those a little more.
"The film stills are different from the old master paintings because I can play with the composition," he said. "I would never crop or alter an old master work but I don't feel bad about doing that to film stills for some reason. Manipulating the compositions and pairings gives me a lot of space to explore and experiment and allows for more discovery."
Stabler was born in Atlanta, Ga., in 1984 and moved to Swaziland - officially the Kingdom of Swaziland - in southern Africa when he was 3. One particular memory of this time of his life stands out: "I was chased by a female leopard in Zimbabwe when my brother and I stumbled on her litter," he said. "She circled the camp we were staying in all night and even killed the camp owner's guard dogs. That was pretty crazy. That was our summer camp when we lived in Swaziland."
Stabler also has lived in Barcelona and London and has exhibited his work internationally as well.
"I was showing a good amount in London and in Europe when I lived there," he said. "I went to grad school in London, so I was in a network of talented artists and we all fed off each other."
The artist now lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son in "a small neighborhood called Columbia."
"We are right off the water, which is usually great, but during the hurricane was a bit nerve- racking," he said.
Thankfully, the storm spared his family - even though nearby areas were devastated.
Stabler's first job in NYC was art handling, which required a steep learning curve that he had to quickly adjust to.
"My first week on the job, I was put in a 30-foot truck and given a schedule," he said. "I had to figure where things were and how to get places, all the while navigating the normal obstacles of the city (cops, tourists, assholes, crazies, etc). It was really trial by fire ... it's surreal to be responsible for artworks that you know from art history."
About his own work, Stabler said that he doesn't want it to be taken too seriously.
"I'm not saying I don't want it to be respected or exhibited or criticized," he said. "Moreover, I don't want my work to be exclusive. I don't want the viewer to need to know art theory or relational aesthetics to understand what they are seeing."
Stabler also was careful to say that he doesn't consider himself a sell-out either.
"I am also not admitting to making populist work," he said. "I am making work that reflects what I think about and hopefully, I am interesting enough of a person for that to come through in my work. In short, I want to punch both Thomas Kinkade and Mathew Barney in the neck."
Stabler's work will be on display at Converge Gallery as a part of the "Saints and Sinners" show until Dec. 22.
For more information about the artist and the gallery, visit converge gallery.com.