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Southern Living

Hills Snyder and Chris Sauter build the dream home for some warped parallel universe

There's no place like home -- at least no place like this home. James Gallery is a converted house that, for its current exhibition, has been given yet another makeover: It now looks like a double-wide model home from a surreal, alternate Texas. Part Gallery Furniture, part gun show, part Bible Belt, part petrochemical plant, "Cropduster" combines the sculpture of Hills Snyder and Chris Sauter into an installation that smacks of a warped rural domesticity.

Snyder presents acrylic silhouettes of odd, iconic objects, slickly manufactured from his own plywood templates, while Sauter, who taught himself to upholster, contributes bizarrely mutated furnishings that erupt into all manner of things. Together, the works create a singular impression: something like an LSD-fueled hybrid of King of the Hill, The Jetsons and Hawaii Five-0, shot on the Hee Haw set. If you can, um, picture that.

Taking a cue from the patriotic lots of used-car dealers, Snyder's Fringe (2001) welcomes you into the exhibition. Pine-tree-shaped air fresheners dangle from the entry door, their vanilla scent as overwhelming as their American flag motif. Inside the gallery's Living Room, a love seat and coffee table erupt into what appear to be suppurating boils, but Sauter's works are, in fact, models of Hawaiian volcanoes. Factory: Mauna Loa Loveseat (2000) is upholstered in a pastoral-print fabric that's stitched in such a way as to sprout a volcanic shape. Factory: Kilauea Coffee Table (2000) has its own eruption, created from tiered layers of wood, highly varnished in true Gallery Furniture fashion.

Lava-tory: Chris Sauter's love seat and coffee table sprout volcanic shapes that bring a bit of Hawaii right to your living room.
James Gallery
Lava-tory: Chris Sauter's love seat and coffee table sprout volcanic shapes that bring a bit of Hawaii right to your living room.

On the wall is Snyder's Blood of the Lamb That Bit You (2001), a bright red acrylic cross with a reverse bas-relief smiley face that looks like a sign fragment from a fundamentalist megachurch with an aggressive PR department. The partial eyes and curve of the mouth have that blank grin of a Trinity Broadcasting Network studio audience. In the corner, My Cup Runneth Over (2001) is a white plaster tree stump with an elegant blue-and-white marbled acrylic ax silhouette sunken into it. Chopping firewood, going to church -- Snyder's works could be skewed takes on the routines of rural life.

In the TV Room, Sauter's Observatory: Mauna Kea Recliner (2001) faces Snyder's television. Recliners are quintessentially American, strategically designed to accommodate our multichannel cable culture and well-padded asses. The chair looks naked, covered with a dimpled and creased vinyl skin colored a sickly dead pink. Another volcano grows from its seat like some gigantic tumor, frustrating any attempt to sit down and watch Snyder's Fact Finding Mission (2001). The sculpture consists of an old plastic wood-grain TV sitting on a kitschy '50s-era wire stand, its color screen adjusted to nostalgic black and white. A peel-and-stick image of a hot-pink coffee cup has been placed on the screen; since it is a cup, not a mug, it conjures up images of vintage domesticity -- old people who habitually get up at 5 a.m. to drink their percolated Folgers at a chipped kitchen table. The transparent fuchsia silhouette on the screen becomes a constant throughout the programming day of Fox 26: You can enjoy coffee with America's Most Wanted, The World's Scariest Police Chases or the nearly naked of Temptation Island. And no den would be complete without a firearm: Placed discreetly over the door is Fortune Hunter (2001), Snyder's black shotgun silhouette with a flaccid barrel that droops down over the molding at a right angle -- the NRA in need of Viagra.

The Dining Room plays host to Refinery (2000), Sauter's wooden dinette set with decorative seat cushions and coordinating tablecloth. At the center of the table is a small-scale model of a refinery with oil derricks poised over each chair, drilling down into the cushions. Is this dinnertime in Pasadena? Sauter's work is interesting for its craftsmanship -- for the originality and sheer strangeness of his vision -- but at times he seems to be working within some hermetic system of symbolism that the viewer isn't privy to. His strategy of combining industry, geological phenomena and proletarian furniture doesn't click, except in some circuitous way. The sculptures aren't strange enough to be completely absurd; they want to connect in some way, yet fail. Still, Sauter's end products have a definite appeal. Although the rationale behind them is murky, you end up so impressed with the quirky individuality of the objects that you overlook the conceptual misfires.

Snyder's work, which reinterprets a wide range of iconic forms, is more purposely enigmatic; his images trigger associations but refuse specific meanings. Hanging on a Dining Room wall is Snyder's Sputnik (2001), an electric-blue planetary sphere whose mirrored surface, marked by opaque craters, reflects back the room in which it's placed. Lies and Whispers(2001), two delicate transparent acrylic axes leaning against the opposite wall, counter the Jetsons aesthetic of Sputnik. One is tinted a little-girl pink, the other a little-boy blue; they await some gender deathmatch, or maybe just his and hers woodchopping.

The gallery's tiny butler's pantry has been renamed the Furnace Room and presents a collaborative work by the two artists. An old heater sits surrounded by Snyder's concentric mirrored silver rings that radiate out like a visual representation of heat. In what seems like an irrelevant addition, the heater itself is topped with yet another of Sauter's model-train accessories, a miniature microwave tower. Its vertical shape works with the piece better than the idea of the object.

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