Through April 12
Zeitgeist Gallery, 1819 21st Ave. S.
Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sat., until 6 p.m. Thurs.
For information, call 256-4805
Picture Mechanics is a cooperative of 37 of the best-known artists you’ve never heard of. Oh, you’ve seen their work on MTV, in Time magazine and, yes, on the cover of Rolling Stone. With very rare exception, though, these artists never sign their worksat least not the illustrations they produce that help sell millions of books, magazines and consumer products each year. But they do sign the paintings, drawings, prints, collages and sculptural pieces that are included in the group’s diverse and accessible show at Zeitgeist.
Some of the artists stick close to their illustrator roots with narrative paintings that would be at home on the cover of a national publication or a CD, while others veer off into the abstract and other less commercial styles. Still others fall somewhere in between, which is one of the points of the show. “It’s interesting to see how graphic artists and illustrators take what’s happening in contemporary art and use it commercially,” says gallery manager Lain York, who is also an exhibiting artist.
The blurred lines between commercial art and fine art result in works like Gerard DuBois’ “Winter,” an acrylic painting on paper. While firmly in the narrative vein, the scene of a monkish man standing in a spartanly furnished room has a dreamlike quality. The figure stares across a wooden table, bare except for two oranges, at an open window that reveals the blue sky and rolling hills just outside the room. The only other occupant is a cat, whose ears and tail poke out of the swirling white mist that covers the floor. The painting might conceivably be used in an advertisement, but it’s far more at home on a gallery wall than in the pages of a magazine. It’s not surprising to learn that DuBois regularly exhibits as a painter.
The three abstract acrylics on canvas by Ward Shumacher, on the other hand, are the artist’s first paintings in over 30 years. Stung by criticism of his paintings early in his career, Shumacher gave up on fine art and devoted himself to commercial art, according to York. Interestingly enough, all three of his worksshadowy suggestions of faceless human headssport little red “sold” dots.
There’s another “sold” sticker on Adam McCauley’s “Halloween Night,” a lively evocation of our simultaneous fear of, and attraction to, things that go bump in the night. The mixed-media work depicts an ink-black Halloween evening filled with leering jack-o’-lanterns, menacing eyes gleaming from the darkness and two tiny kids peering in delighted fright out their window. McCauley is a successful illustrator of children’s books, including the popular Time Warp Trio series.
Works by prolific illustrator Peter Kuper, whose work can be seen on the cover of major magazines and in the pages of underground comics journals, are also included in the show. Viewers may spy a stylistic link between Kuper’s comics illustrations and “Birds,” a mixed-media work in comic strip format that traces the whimsical transformation of birds on a telephone wire into musical notes as a street saxophonist plays below. Kuper’s other pieces in the show combine vivid geometric designs with text in a much more abstract fashion.
Other eye-catching works include a watercolor by Anita Kunz of singer Lucinda Williams in cowgirl gear riding a longhorn steer and Mark Ulriksen’s oil painting of a solitary player shooting baskets on a moonlit court in the woods. Esther Pearl Watson’s “Tex Owens 1933,” an acrylic on paper in an outsider/ folk art vein, looks perfectly suited to album cover. Jason Holley’s portrait of a rabbit contemplating its own removed head, on the other hand, recalls the macabre imagery of medieval painter Hieronymus Bosch. Meanwhile, Tavis Coburn’s “Safe, Confident, Secure, Power,” of smiling men, women and children in gas masks, suggests the pulp novels and propaganda posters of the post-World War II era. In all, there are 45 works on view, each one different from the next and each one worth a lookwhether as fine art or fine commercial art.
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