Ellie Rusinova and Brandan Styles, the art duo Mad Tatters, want you to embrace your darker side. "Too many people are afraid to find their shadow side," says Styles. "We both want to show ours, in our way, and we want to act upon and play in that dark area." Mad Tatters' show, Circus: Suspended Release, at Leon Gallery through March 6, delves into the playful and sometimes dark world of Cirque Voltaire, a theme Mad Tatters has come to embody.
Rusinova and Styles started Mad Tatters five years ago, when they began selling shirts on the street during First Fridays. Since then, they've traveled showing their art in festivals, put on a couple of circuses a year, and have recently taken over the Denver branch of Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School. "We try to bring the weirdos and misfits together," explains Styles.
The concept for their show corresponds with their mission at Dr. Sketchy's and their conceptual base as an art duo -- to invert the normal social doctrine of whatever is light, clean, and normal is good, or right, and introduce an alternate reality. "Our world is a dual world," says Styles. "Ellie is capturing the dream world, and I provide a surrealistic twist. The interaction is a conversation, a philosophical debate."
The conversation between Styles' art and Rusinova's art creates an interesting dynamic in the gallery -- Rusinova's pieces express a feminine or delicate form, while Styles pieces explore a sort of tortured masculine brutality. Rusinova's "Gothic Altarpiece With Mary, Holy Child and Monsters," a high and low relief adorned with prairie dog skeleton sculptures, contains the classic richness of a formal piece (even the skeletons are skillfully crafted into position). Styles' "Dark Night of the Soul," a painting on splintered wood with nails protruding from the sides, introduces a rough texture to compliment Rusinova's style.
Rusinova and Styles hunt out their own prairie dog skeletons, by the way, and have learned a bit about the species in doing so. "They're like little Aztecs," says Styles. "All the bones are picked clean and in a pile by the top of their mound. They're cannibals, apparently."
Mad Tatters' actualized duality attracted the owners of Leon Gallery to the duo initially. "I personally love the way, as a couple, their art works together," explains co-owner Matthew Buford. "Their craftsmanship is incredible. And that's not something you see a lot of in Denver."
The couple is married now, but from their first encounter Rusinova and Styles shared a common artistic vision and felt in-sync with one another. "We met when we were neighbors, and found that we were both interested in the same ideas," says Rosinova. "We have slowly started to make our ideas real, by working together."
"We work in the same studio," adds Styles, "at the same time. We throw things at each other and steal each other's tools." Their studio provides the couple with a free space, to practice art as they want -- a move that's proved essential to them.
"I went to the Fart Institute and was quickly dismayed," says Styler. "Make sure you add the 'f' there, because I did say 'Fart Institute.' After I came out, I actually learned the language of painting and art. And that's what we do. We play with the language of art. Once you learn the language, you have a voice and then you can start making statements."
"With this show we both found what we wanted to say," adds Rusinova. "We want to say we're coming into our own."
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Their coming into their own in Denver, and feeling comfortable. "We have both moved around a lot in our lives," says Rusinova. "But, we love Denver. We've found our place."
Circus: Suspended Release shows at Leon Gallery, 1112 East 17th Avenue, through March 6. Co-owner Eric Dallimore says this show provides a chance to see a different genre of art than what Denver is used to. "Ellie is from Bulgaria, so she's pulling from Eastern Europe," he says. "While circus-themed art has become a popular genre, you never see it like this. You can tell they are working toward an unique image. The pictures just don't do it justice."