Themes are tricky beasts. For instance, when a theme is rooted in an easily malleable signifier, where the motif in question is so broad as to invite arbitrary application, an air of the trivial may befall it. It's not always a bad thing; Delta Axis' recent "All About Paint" at AMUM took this approach to good effect. The subject "paint" remains open-ended, allowing paintings, paint blobs, or just passing references to paint. Inversely, an assembly of works designated by a solitary defining trait risks relegating otherwise estimable efforts into canned goods. Such artifice binds the artworks to one another in a manner unflattering to all.
"G Gobbled It, P Peeped Into It, T Took It" is freighted by the latter approach to theme. Whether it's April Joy Baker's naive vernacular depicting the victimization of a pubescent female, Emily Walls' brightly colored creatures seemingly inspired by Naked Lunch, or T.L. Solien's drawings equal parts Walt Disney and Anselm Kiefer, the juxtapositions are redundant. One gets the idea that no other reference to innocence could maintain validity short of the recognition of its loss. The irony is that for a room full of childhood nostalgia, the mood is decidedly glum.
Solien's mixed-media drawings are among the most paradoxical works on view. An unruly litter of torn edges and violent marks fragment the compositions, and the incongruent inclusion of G-rated coloring-book fodder -- as in the goofy elf of Blind Prophet -- really drives home the strange. Looking over the picture, one begins to take note of all the asides, the little geometric inventions, abandoned motifs, and whatnot. The surface of Autumn Leaves is so tortured, it appears as though the artist literally wallowed in the drawing.
Less hell-bent on irony than any other participant is Dan Schimmel, whose drawings show a penchant for wet-on-wet india ink puddles transformed into anthropomorphic creatures by the addition of googley eyes. Less foreboding than Solien's brash images, curator Hamlett Dobbins compares Schimmel's characters to Grover on Sesame Street. The artist's puddles are unremarkable in form or execution, as if a ubiquitous uniformity is actively courted, and then life breathed into these humble creatures by the simple admixture of peepers. The series seems to be a meditation upon the margin in which raw, undifferentiated form becomes representation.
Right on the heels of Walls' installation "The Big and the Small" at AMUM's Artlab, some of her playful "puffalump sculptures" make an encore appearance here, and thank goodness for it. Walls is the only sculptor in the bunch, and her big pile of stuffed mutants and protozoa and the tiny maquettes of similar freaks created with sugar-hued sculpy offer a compelling visual counterpoint to the two-dimensional work. Interestingly enough, the small carries the day here, as the miniatures of nonsense objects and articles of clothing entice like luscious candy.
In the painting Rock-a-bye Baby on the Tree Top, Corrie Beth Hogg feigns the nesciences of folk idioms by adopting a cornpone-cut-and-paste approach that enables a hodgepodge of images and styles. The artist unfolds the entire lullaby's narrative with a series of eight paintings, and the symbolism is both cliché and didactic. Hogg is gifted at drawing, and her style sublimates painting to drawing so much so that the picture might be more accurately described as a colored drawing. Unfortunately, the single-file visual explication of its verses borders on the blandly illustrative.
Alex Wiesenfeld gets props for injecting humor, even if it's juvenile. Appropriating 80 grade-school science experiment cards, the artist crudely alters the instructional illustrations of children into bunnies and whites out text to skew the words and images into sophomoric gags, as in #16) Floating nuts. Perhaps Wiesenfeld best captures that childlike sense of humor, but he too cannot resist transforming images of guilelessness and wonder into menacing and often sexualized beasts.
While each artist offers a unique approach to the subject of childhood influences, the amalgam is sort of a downer. Qualities that might otherwise be derived from these disparate works are likely overshadowed by the specter of their shared sentiment. The issue at hand is whether the language of innocence is only suitable when applied to cynical ends. It is not the fault of the theme per se or a reflection on the merits of each artist's work but rather a blatant neglect of context.
"G Gobbled It, P Peeped Into It, T Took It" at Delta Axis through September 15th.