The artists showing their work at Mixture Contemporary Art's "Georganne Deen, Patrick Phipps, Scott Teplin" exhibit seem to have little in common. Teplin's precise images in ink and watercolor stand in sharp contrast to Phipps's cartoony sketches, and neither seems to have any relation to Deen's fairy-tale oils.
But all three of them play in the murky frontier of image, text and narrative. Teplin incorporates letters and words into a rebuslike code. Phipps gives us cartoons with text, in both shop signs and his characters' T-shirts. And Deen's paintings tell stories using text hand-painted on the surrounding walls.
In Teplin's large pieces, the titles are central to the paintings. In Blimey, the title's letters appear to be made of clear glass filled with a thick red fluid the consistency of custard or oil paint. The letters of Choke Cherry dance below a round red object lined with teeth. I guess that makes it a gum bowl, given the artist's affection for puns, both verbal and visual. He gives us more puns in Mourning Would. Each of the letters in "would" gives a view into a room with wood floors, several with the same unmade bed partially obscured by the curve of the letter. There is little to mourn for here. The work calls to mind a cheerful way to start a day.
Teplin's pictures include a set of repeating elements: the letters drawn as glassware, the hollow teeth with straws, the mustachioed mouths, the looping cords, the crud dripping from the letters. Looking at this whole set, the viewer starts to see these repeating motifs as part of a hieroglyphic language, as if they carried as much meaning as the letters and words. A set of smaller sketches, each incorporating one of these elements, seems like some kind of key to this code. It's a wonder that, taken together, these puzzling, sometimes grotesque images can be pleasant, even pretty. It doesn't seem possible to interpret them exactly, but the simple illusion of meaning is a positive thing.
There's no such illusion in Patrick Phipps's work. His ink sketches are done on graph paper and lined office tablets, pinned to the walls unframed in an untidy, haphazard fashion. The drawings show the clumsy draftsmanship of a teenage cartoonist; this is the work a clever high school kid passes to his classmates in the back of the room.
A few of Phipps's drawings work as cartoons, at about the level of workmanship found in self-published comics. They comment upon easy cultural targets. Two geezers wear T-shirts printed with "Mott the Hoople" and the old bumper sticker "Gas, Grass, or Ass." "Generation Gap" shows a kid in a T-shirt with the slogan "I love Staind and Linkin Park."
Phipps's humor is more obvious that Teplin's. It's hard to miss the joke because all the connections are made for you. A drawing called Back in the Day shows Victrolas throwing out encouragement to dance the Charleston and the foxtrot. He applies heavy-handed irony here, giving the ancient American-made machines the newer Japanese brand label "Technics." Perhaps there are those who prefer to have their humor pointed out more explicitly. Somebody goes to Jim Carrey movies.
These sketches are part of a book, Nice Krisis, described in promotional materials as "an attempt to create a facsimile artist's sketchbook." For most of us, artist's sketchbooks appeal because they allow us to see the development of motifs and ideas that result in other finished works or a coherent style. I don't see any of that happening in the sketches on these walls. There's no unity of theme or even attitude, and most of the drawings show a complete lack of consideration for composition. This looks like what it is: sketchbook stuff, a set of dead-end ideas and experiments not even related to one another.
The artist with the strongest reputation, Georganne Deen, has made her name painting works that give us a wrenching look at the dark, painful places in her psyche, resonating with audiences whether or not they share her experiences. This is what art is supposed to do.
Her paintings here present a specific narrative. Taking the mythological character of Persephone and her captivity in the underworld as a starting point, we see her struggle through grief and anger as she finds her way out of darkness and into a world of light and possibility. The narrative is enhanced by text written on the walls around the pictures, in the voice of the heroine.
The Lion-Hearted Fountain of Forgiveness is small and mostly white, decorated with beads in the fountain's stream. Twilight of the Unforgiven, in dark blue with a chain of blue beads, depicts a woman with a harp, her arms hidden by a robe. The script next to it states, "I loved him completely, but I started changing. God knows why."
In Bluto's Sweet Face, a cave is depicted in brown and yellow. Two characters on a ledge pour something (water? slops? boiling oil?) on a woman kneeling below. The script describes a fantasy in which a witch perfume is unleashed upon our protagonist's betrayer and his new woman, so that "he would get no more than a handful of fucks out of her after that."
The largest painting in the series is the final one, I Was Waiting for You. We see the pregnant, naked heroine in a yellow wood of graves and mushrooms. She's in the company of some Disneyesque human trees. There's a glimpse of a lighted city through a gap in the hills. The writer explains, "That's how I discovered the valley deeper than anybody said."
Although these paintings are presented as illustrations of a simple fable, each stands on its own, both as story and as visual object. Not all the connections between the paintings and the text are obvious. There's room for viewers to find their own meanings in the tale. And as a result, there's more magic in Deen's work than in any "witch perfume" a fairy-tale character might concoct.
Mixture has arranged a coherent exhibit by three artists with such disparate styles. They all present images wrapped up with elements of language, story and humor that extend the possibilities of purely visual art. Moving from the obvious jokes in Phipps's work to the multilevel puns and teasing puzzles in Teplin's drawings to the deep psychic explorations of Deen's paintings makes for a rich afternoon at the gallery.
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