The word "thrash" brings to mind visions of stage diving and shrieking feedback. At the THRASH Open Show at Edge Gallery, however, the term takes on new significance. According to curator Sherrie Ingle, THRASH stands for "The Harshest Radical Art Since Hell." But the art here, though outrageous at times, is more naughty than demonic.
"Thrash" is also a sailing term, used to describe a ship fighting against the wind. The image fits the new-wavy, confrontational air presented by much of the art at this no-holds-barred biannual event: Paintings, photographs, three-dimensional and multimedia works--largely by newcomers to the Edge cooperative, some showing in Denver for the first time--propose new styles and refreshing alternatives.
The majority of the exhibit is sexually explicit, an aspect that was specifically requested in the call for entries. But the most desirable pieces provoke more than the libido. More than a few mind-arresting works have no sexual content whatsoever. For example, Dave Strunk plays with snapshots of strangers and banal photos of family members by scraping off each picture's's surface, leaving a ghostly shadow of the original. He then obsessively draws over the faded photo with pen, transforming ordinary people into staring, bug-eyed aliens with skyscraper hairdos. Seeing the underlying photo peeking out from under Strunk's bizarre overlay triggers an uneasy jolt of recognition in the viewer. The effect is uncanny and hilarious--big art in a tiny format.
Casey Loose's surrealistic paintings of insectoid manimals rapidly decomposing in an abstract chessboard world sum up the intimate frustrations of modern life in a very satisfactory--if maimed--way. "Post Mortem Osmosium" and "Life Through Osmosis," Loose's melting scenarios of conflict and transformation, evoke art history, popular culture and the nature of reality all in the same shifting perspective.
Susan Smolinsky constructs a different surrealistic universe in her paintings. The artist's teeming, biomorphic canvases enclose a subterranean world of strange flora and fauna vaguely reminiscent of sexual organs. But the mood of mystery and sensuality evoked in Smolinsky's dreamy "Roots of Forgiveness" and "Love and Seasons" goes beyond sex, seemingly to the irrational, organic source of life itself.
Cameron Jones's painting of faceless figures dancing with or being devoured by strange, spiral-like beings creates a stunning impact. Jones's delicately painted surfaces and seductive forms have a universal appeal, and the serene, abstract depiction of missed human connections and psychological confusion seems to sing and move. (One observation: This lovely painting needs a new stretcher; obvious warping detracts from its considerable power.)
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Other notable artists include Dave L. Hubbard, Robert Gratiot and David O'Brian. Hubbard's sketchy painting "Frottage" begins with a nude whose skeleton is visible, as though the skin were transparent. The uniquely exposed crotch area offers everything--even the hidden bones--to a disembodied hand that approaches from the edge of the canvas. Gratiot's photo-based series of paintings, "Invasion of the Press," thrashes the media by freezing vivid and terrible moments first seen on network news. And O'Brian's "Attention!" an odd painting of bird heads, with a scientist holding out a sample of unidentified liquid, incorporates an elaborate text-explanation of the story behind the work, something about snowy egrets being exploited as lubricant. Thrash!
The exhibit's most prestigious piece is "Two Wire Heads," by Lonnie Holley, the internationally famous African-American self-taught artist. Unfortunately, the wire wall-sculpture was not hung at press time. But the rare chance to see Holley's work locally is well worth a stop at this show.
THRASH manages to disturb and rejuvenate at the same time by presenting dangerous viewpoints wrapped (mostly) in pretty paper. Be warned, however, that much of the material is adult-oriented and "rude" by design, so if you are offended by sculptures that depict Barbie dolls doing improbable things with plastic dildos, prepare for a thrashing.
The THRASH Open Show, through March 13 at Edge Gallery, 3658 Navajo, 477-7173.