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By Design

At Delta Axis, off-the-wall posters and prints.

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The invitation was irresistible. Memphis artist Sasha Barr and John Weeden, assistant director for Rhodes College's Center for Outreach in the Development of the Arts, asked poster artists and designers to contribute prints from their personal portfolios to "Agents of Timbre," the current exhibition at Delta Axis @ Marshall Arts.

Respond they did. Given the chance to create art unconstrained by the expectations of customers or clients, these artists/designers have become 21st-century soothsayers whose sassy/sexy/sardonic posters reflect our times.

For their collaborative contribution to the exhibition, Pasadena artists Michael Motorcycle and Michael Hammond infuse fairy tales with 21st-century angst and create narratives about damsels and a world in distress. In the screenprint Into the Backyard Forest, a masked villain with a dagger runs through a stand of trees. A woman who is also a lush flower who is also a lioness tears at her hair. In the middle of the composition, in the middle of a tree, an all-seeing eye looks out at the viewer and weeps blood. Beyond adventure films and soap-opera dramas, Motorcycle and Hammond ask us to feel the world's pain, including that of trees whose pulp feeds the endless flow of leaflets and posters.

The most ribald work in the show, Atlanta-based artist Mark McDevitt's screenprint Weiner, looks like an underground poster for out-of-control consumerism. "So, who wants meat?!" the wild-eyed and grimacing weiner seems to exclaim as he squirts mustard on a long string of hot dogs spewing from his belly.

Many of the exhibition's prints allude to excessive marketing and compromised environments. In The Conversation, Chicagoan Dan Grzeca packs skyscrapers into a wooden cart like those used by medieval peddlers. Grzeca's marketplace has grown huge and threatens to roll over anything that gets in its way.

In a vision of economic and environmental collapse, 12 tiny cartoon legs support Rhode Island artist Jesse Ledoux's screenprint Giant Hand. On the wrist, a business suit and tie are emblazoned in red, and inside the humongous hand is a complex world of gnomes, exotic landscapes, and octopus tentacles reaching up into tsunami waves, which are also squeezing a tiny human head.

Cityscapes burn dark red and roil with Van Gogh-like swirls in Kathleen Judge's world. In her monoprint Westside, Chicago-based Judge steps back from the inferno and looks into the smoke and shadows of one of the most haunting images in the show: It's twilight. We can just make out the sooty, swirling ether and a river flowing between silhouettes of factories, cranes, and smokestacks. At first, Memphian Kim Hindman's consummately executed nude torsos seem out of place in a show full of satire and sociopolitical observation, but one of Hindman's untitled prints, scumbled and shaded almost to abstraction, reminds us that for all our bombast and desire to control and consume, ultimately we are just one more ingredient merging into and morphing out of the primordial stew.

In Tweedy, Sasha Barr symbolizes the idiosyncratic views of rockers Jeff Tweedy and Glenn Kotche. A full moon flanks a huge eye looking down from the top floor of a theater, which lists to the right as if to accommodate these musicians' experimental sounds and what a Rolling Stone article described as the "hell hounds in their heads."

As we exit the galley, the wall on our right is filled with Philadelphia artist Tim Gough's screenprints of alien/animal/human hybrids in whose breasts the battle between reason and primal instinct still rages. In the particularly poignant work, Guy with a Hole, a Big Foot-like creature rips open his own chest. Inside is stark-white space, a blank canvas. Getting to the guts of things and having our say are important, sometimes life-saving, desires.

Curators Weeden and Barr have created a venue that allows for that kind of wry, raw truth-telling. The results are powerful.

Closing reception Saturday, August 18, at Delta Axis @ Marshall Arts from 6 to 9 p.m.

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