Large clusters of burned-out lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling are the first and the last things you'll see in "Lapses To Kill," the current exhibition at the David Lusk Gallery. In between these unusual chandeliers you'll find two tiny figures from a wedding cake enlarged a thousand fold, a large beach ball made out of plaster, and a delicious-looking wooden birthday cake, with 54 tiers and slathered with creamy chocolate frosting.
This is the work of Greely Myatt, an artist who combines skilled craftsmanship with the whimsy of folk art, the irony of pop, and the storytelling of postmodernism. In homage to Jasper Johns' Three Flags, for example, Myatt sculpts walnut, heart pine, and broom handles into 3 Scrub Boards, beautifully crafted icons of domesticity that, like the flag, speak of sacrifice and hard work.
I Gotta Learn How To Talk ups the artistic ante. This collage/painting/bulletin board/Post-it Note from the subconscious looks into the mind of Myatt. The tops of 156 sheets of paper are attached to a stretched canvas. On each sheet, loose brush strokes of acrylic gesso cover up most of a single cartoon frame, leaving behind only the words of a speech balloon. This billowing gray-white collage looks like layers of gray matter spewing out some of those half-conscious "I gotta" criticisms that Myatt and the rest of us play and replay in our minds. A steel rod in the shape of a thought balloon is attached to the work, framing portions of nine of the sheets of paper. With this viewfinder, Myatt takes a good look at the attitudes that drive us. He spends much of the rest of the exhibition turning these expectations on their heads.
In the zany sculpture, Formal Arrangement, Myatt enlarges two tiny figures used to decorate wedding cakes. Out of 12 feet of polystyrene he sculpts an upside-down woman in a mauve taffeta gown balancing on the head of tall, dark man dressed in a tux. Here is relationship as balancing act, the woman air-headed and heels-over-head in love and her partner grounded, supportive, and proud.
Myatt is playing with stereotypes with the Styrofoam man and wife of Formal Arrangement, and he doesn't stop there. The couple stares at the back gallery wall. The objects of their contemplation are two empty steel-edged speech balloons (Echo). One of the speech balloons is turned upside-down and balanced on top of the other. Like an upside-down couple contemplating upside-down thoughts, like one idea leading to another, like the pure potential of a wide-open mind, Myatt asks us to see things anew.
For Myatt, the possibilities seem endless. In Mitote, baseball bats are grafted onto pool cues onto broom handles onto shovels. These seamless, shape-shifting objects appear to somersault across the gallery floor. A Beach Ball that is not a beach ball brings to mind the wordplay and illusion of René Magritte and Barnett Newman's "zips" that edged the sublime. The heavy plaster sections that make up this large white globe can be taken apart and rearranged by unzipping the colorful zippers that hold it together. In Myatt's world, everything that has gone before, or that exists now, can be mixed and matched into juxtapositions that challenge and enlarge our points of view.
So, what about those big clusters of burned-out bulbs hanging in the front gallery and in the viewing room behind the back gallery? Did too many bright ideas come together too quickly and burn each other up? Not with this artist. There's a method to the mischief. As a sort of scorecard, Myatt added spent bulbs to the chandeliers as he finished works for the show.
On opening night, the cluster of bulbs in the viewing area, Shades, contained one live and 44 dead light bulbs. Shades and Shamrocks, the chandelier hanging in the main gallery, consisted of 144 burned-out bulbs. The four live bulbs in the piece created just enough light to let us see the show and to look into its shadows.
Only one caveat for "Lapses To Kill": The title's allusions to lapsing, fallowness, relative inactivity, and eradication won't prepare you for this exhibit. Seeing this show, one senses that Myatt's surrealist/folk/pop/conceptualist/postmodern mind never stills. This artist mines our psyches and messes with our presumptions, and rather than killing off or completing ideas, he spins them into ever sassier, richer configurations.