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Good Morning, America

Randy Twaddle's work is both politically charged and successful

If you've driven Houston's highways, you've seen the plethora of "Support Our Troops" stickers out there. Interestingly, many of them are accompanied by a W'04 sticker and a Christian fish, all of it stuck on the back of a seven-miles-to-the-gallon behemoth SUV driven by a lone occupant who seems patently unaware of the irony. But it hasn't escaped Randy Twaddle.

Current politics, the Iraq war and their attendant catchphrases are fodder for Twaddle in his exhibition "Randy Twaddle: A.M. in America" at Moody Gallery. There are a lot of politically angry artists out there. A few of them are finding ways to channel it into their art; fewer still are doing it successfully. Twaddle manages to pull off something really tough: He's making art that's as politically charged as it is aesthetically satisfying.

Twaddle's charcoal drawings depict slightly crumpled fortune cookielike strips of paper with text that rearranges the order of words in common phrases. The snippets of paper appear to float in space. In Support Our Troops (2004), the words "country and god" and "gas and oil" run down opposite sides of a piece of paper. It's bent in the middle like those yellow or red-white-and-blue "ribbon" bumper stickers. Twaddle pointedly places "country" before "god" and pairs it with "gas" and "oil." In doing so, he juxtaposes justification for the war (country and god) with underlying motivation (gas and oil).

Twaddle's Mission Accomplished evokes 
smoke and gunpowder residue.
Courtesy of Randy Twaddle
Twaddle's Mission Accomplished evokes smoke and gunpowder residue.

In Twaddle's charcoal drawing Mission Accomplished (2004), the words "bones and skull blood and flesh minds and hearts awe and shock" are discernable on a curving banner. The smeary, dusty-black charcoal evokes smoke and gunpowder residue. Pale lines behind dark clouds create the feeling of an explosion -- or poignant rays of sunlight streaming through its aftermath. In Mission Accomplished, Twaddle has produced a succinct critique, grimly evoking secretive elitist machinations, carnage, manipulation and destruction.

Not All That Unusual (2004) juxtaposes the phrases "talented and lovely" and "unusual and cruel." It's a pairing that could easily apply to our Abu Ghraib cognitive dissonance: People across America have told themselves that surely our government and our good, wholesome American kids could not be responsible for atrocities.

Twaddle continues his series with a group of small works executed in dark, chalky gouache and watercolor. In Grand, Old, Parties (2004), the deep black of the paint creates a dark, velvety contrast with the paper. It lacks the expressiveness of his charcoal drawings, but it has more dramatic punch. Some of the charcoal works could stand stronger contrast.

Twaddle has solid work and good ideas, but experimenting with different media and playing with formal issues could make it even stronger. Of course, in the best of all worlds, it would be wonderful if he ran out of new material for the series. Twaddle himself would certainly agree.

Through the Cartoon Lens

Wyatt Nash's name sounds like the title of some '80s sitcom starring Don Johnson. But he's not Wyatt Nash, PI or Wyatt Nash, bounty hunter -- he's a sculptor with an exhibition of works frankly titled "Trying Hard Not to Fail" on view at Maas Projects (Mixture Gallery's project space). The show displays Nash's affinity for Styrofoam, joint compound and Sculpey clay. He makes objects that are sort of pop, a little surreal and really cartoony, reflecting his oddball take on reality.

Many of Nash's sculptures depict life-size quotidian objects: a circular saw, a computer, a movie projector, a urinal. But Nash crafts them as if they were seen through a cartoon lens; it's like when a film's scenes suddenly change from live action to animation.

Nash's skewed exaggeration of the banal produces objects like The Last Legs of a Broken Object (2004). It looks like a 286 computer, one of those beige models with the CRT display and a brown keyboard. With its stack of giant floppy disks and old dot matrix printer, it's a really silly take on a piece of outmoded technology that's on the cusp of becoming nostalgic. In a similar vein, a movie projector sits on a metal folding chair with legs slightly splayed under its weight. The chair legs remind you that this stuff is all Styrofoam. While even the massive objects are light and fragile, the Styrofoam always seems on the verge of breaking.

Other works become more surreal. An oversize wall urinal seems to be backing up and overflowing with big exaggerated drips of water. If you wanted to place Nash's work historically, you could sum it up as Marcel Duchamp meets Claes Oldenburg meets Peter Saul. Sculptures like My Weak Back (2004) are more Wile E. Coyote, with planks of fake wood projecting from the wall, about to snap under the weight of "rocks." The joint compound over Styrofoam gives things a weird, rubbery look.

In addition to the surreal, Nash creates a kinda funny, kinda disturbing vignette with a circular saw resting on a white draped hospital cart. It's splattered with blood, as are the accompanying dust mask and safety goggles. Lying on a similar cart across the room is a sculpture of a human forearm, its fingers and wrist all cut into neat thick slices like a ham. Is this a trend? Jason Villegas has severed arms on view in "Woods" at Negative Space -- what's the deal with dismemberment and twentysomething male sculptors?

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