Dum Dum Grown-Ups
By Louise Patrick
This mode of working, though clearly visible in many of the works, is secondary to the fact that however they came to make these pieces, there are stylistic considerations that the artists soberly applied for a strange cohesiveness. Despite irreverence or childlike personas, their marriage between style and content seems appropriate. This is not to understate the subject matters and ideas of the artists. One thing that is evident across the board is that these artists made some interesting choices about the subjects in their work. It seems a worthwhile endeavor to bring to the surface the syntactical breakdown mechanism in art and its reading, and for the artist to have faith in the results. In fact, some might say that this "syntactical breakdown" is necessary for a pure art moment to result. It’s not always clear what motivated the artists in Dum Dum Grown-Up Art to make but the pieces are seductive enough to inspire curiosity and not leave you empty handed when you find yourself in the artist’s particular world.
Although the work in the show is diverse, a couple of loose categories emerge that align the artists. A deliberate yet compulsive psychedelic quality connects the works of L.D. Avery and Josh Kil. Avery’s painting looks like an obsessively decorated psychedelic Christmas tree. It does, however, look to be as much about mourning as it is about celebration. Its monochromatic matte-finish surface, made of tiny white lines on a black background, depict a strange moment with birds flying to and falling from various light sources. The birds, fire and sky somehow become functional/ dysfunctional through the orderliness and centered composition. Kil’s wall painting achieves a similar balance but uses the model of poster art from the late sixties to combine otherwise divisive subject matter including nude pregnant women in a sort of prayer circle, a little lamb with an A+ necklace and a man spying it from a nearby window, a spilling plate of a well-rounded meal, and in the foreground two businessmen with skulls for heads shaking hands to finish the deal. This large piece has a graphic quality and a fluid composition filled in with gratuitous gradations that almost imply a painterly quality. Oh… and when you walk around the corner, there is, on the wall, a fat little naked cowboy with a pussycat tattoo, who is posturing as if he is the master of ceremonies.
Fred Fleisher, Jason Fox and Ken Madore’s work each feature physically and mentally warped characters that suggest strange narratives and perverse psychologies. Fleisher’s sculpture has a sort of transsexual baby or child wearing makeup and moving inside of a display case or cage. The character seems to be making a move to gain your approval, but only gains that approval through its alien-like strangeness. Fox’s drawing features a man with bat characteristics and prosthetic mechanical parts. This awkward superhero hangs upside-down with pride. Ken Madore’s large drawing "illustrates a fantastical fictionalized narrative based on the adventures of a real life friend who, as a child, was briefly kidnapped by a local mentally handicapped man," (from the press release). Madore’s attention to detail and depiction of the mentally handicapped man is uncomfortable and funny. It is clearly up to the viewer to decide the degree of sympathy for the hero, but with the piece’s central composition, it becomes a banner for something perversely magical.
Jon Flack, Tom Hines, Doug Young and Matt Jones’ paintings all share a more or less straightforward painting style as a seemingly non-threatening device to advance more funny and problematic agendas. Flack’s well-rendered oil painting has a plastic reindeer as its main character. Though rendered very directly, Flack’s piece implies a timeless and fictional seeming space. The poor lawn ornament reindeer seems to have been discarded only to be reborn and possibly even celebrated in his new environment. Hines’ painting appears serene and tasteful, with a wood grain and a landscape. They do, however, subliminally feature Luther Campbell of 2live crew. The execution is so subtle that one might not know if they are witnessing something humorous or serious. For some it could be humorous that Hines might actually be serious. Jones painted the bust of a man in a suit. The pose of the man is awkwardly natural; something similar to the awkwardness captured in a yearbook picture. The lower portion of the painting self-consciously and/or confidently states "GROWN-UP ART," which seems to, unabashedly; make light the question of the artist’s own status in the spectrum between adolescence and adulthood. This seems to coincide with an ambivalent reverence for pushing the paint around. And Young’s "Portrait of the Ghost from Poltergeist," is literally a picture of a static filled television at approximately real world scale. In the movie "Poltergeist," the television was the embodiment of the thing that could destroy the perfect little world of your fantasies. The deadpan execution of the painting and directness towards its subject matter gives this painting a haunting and dynamic presence.
Complication and ambiguity are both acceptable traits by the very premise of the show. When put together with one another, something strange can happen; the works create the very context necessary for them to function. The curator conscientiously preemptively denies and dares you to take the work seriously, analyze it, and finally, ally yourself with the artists. When you accept the dum dum, in this case, you are accepting something that claims a fresh space. You’re not accepting something diminutive; you’re accepting something truly expansive.