The Comic Uncanny at Shaheen

    Much art is funny, though rarely LOL. Sometimes it even laughs at itself. But at
    what point does it begin to lose its innocence irremediably– to rot a little, lurching
    into the crusty, punch-packed, uncanny realm of repression?

    The ten artists chosen by New York-based curator and gallerist Stephanie
    Theodore for the show The Comic Uncanny are by no means a bunch of
    comedians, but they’re often funny in both senses of the term, confronting issues
    of rejection and exclusion in moderately transgressive works that flirt with personal
    and cultural boundaries. An international set, they also cover a lot of ground and
    several eras, starting with three passionately peculiar lithographs by the late H. C.
    Westermann. Much of that artist’s work deals with his horrific experiences as a
    sailor aboard the USS Enterprise during WWII. His 1967 alien landscape Red
    Planet “J” is more a fantasy of aggression, with hairy monsters draped over Kremlin-
    shaped mountains and round, riveted aircraft speeding in threatening trajectories.
    Perched more securely at the edge of sanity former Black Flag drummer Raymond
    Pettibon’s three ink drawings are classic punk commentary. His 1990 “Look
    teacher…” is a black and white cartoon depicting a defiant young artist with a
    rockabilly ‘do and a loaded rubber band, surrounded by belligerent text: “POST
    The Comic Uncanny shows a general disdain for any distinction between the
    obsessions of fine art and the finesse of obsessed art. This is especially true of
    Jersey City resident John Jodzio, whose acrylic, sharpie and collage fantasy
    cityscapes mix the narrative ambition of Henry Darger with a finely honed Pop art
    design sense. Jodzio presents scenes of stylized conflict between a cat-headed
    gang in black jumpsuits and various rival groups. Their battleground is a dense
    pastiche of vintage advertizing and decorative clichés. In New Jersey Kamikaze low-
    flying aircraft zoom overhead in tight formation while a simpering hot dog in a tutu
    bats its eyelashes in the middle distance.

    Despite an air of what psychoanalyst and critical theorist Julia Kristeva might term
    “abjection” the show is actually quite well-behaved. Only two works deal with
    urination for instance, and one of them -- Pettibon’s bathroom sketch of Gumby
    poised above a toilet – hardly counts (the whole eleventh season of South Park is
    more uncanny than that). Then there’s the oil and enamel on panel painting titled
    Drain by New York based Ryan Steadman, depicting a man in a thickly painted
    green hoodie. A lavish pool of cadmium yellow puddles in front of him, running
    backward between his legs across an all-over field of bright orange bricks. It
    disappears down a neatly rendered gray drain. Though not comic, the image
    echoes strangely in the gaps between experience and observation. In a related
    vein several Sock Puppet studies by Brooklyn artist Christopher Moss are penile
    (though what sock puppet isn’t?), and imbued with slightly demented personality as
    they revisit a childhood finger-painting aesthetic.

    Far more self-possessed though not necessarily grown-up are the archetypes,
    actors, and mutants who engage in miniature mystery plays on Canadian artist
    Marcel Dzama’s paper stage. One rootbeer and ink drawing at Shaheen features a
    satanic, humpty-dumpty headed figure, clad in a smock and restraining a smaller,
    even scarier version of himself on a leash. He appears to be making an indecent
    proposal to a young Hardy Boy-type in a jester’s cap, sitting with a jazz-era girl
    friend. Just as recondite in their own way are Matthew Fisher’s acrylic on linen
    renditions of early nineteenth century soldiers, toy-like in gold braid and tall
    brimmed hats as they enact a symbolic order all their own. Also edging well into the
    weird, Glasgow-based David Shrigley’s very outsider-like ink line drawings explore
    incongruities of identity. One is a sort of concrete-style poem titled No, consisting of
    that word, a list of body parts, and a firm “no thank you” at the end.
    Jodzio’s manic vision of contemporary urban life is rivaled by Brooklyn artist
    Scooter LaFarge, whose jam-packed acrylic on canvas America presents incidents
    both painterly and narrative. Influences as diverse as Red Grooms and Dana
    Schutz mix in a cartoonish landscape where a two-headed blue bear stands upright
    on a boulder, brandishing an American flag. In the foreground a diapered ape lies
    among poppies and daisies, his chest blossoming with cardiac monitoring

    So maybe it’s comic or uncanny. The clearest example of comedy in the show,
    LaFarge’s farcical painting seems unimpressed by things proscribed and
    prescribed alike, though full of the jouissance of painting. Similarly, Dublin artist
    David Godbold is primarily satirical in tone, here presenting ink sketches of
    Baroque era paintings with sassy typescript captions. Under one lavish apotheosis
    Godbold sums it all up: “Optimistic self-definition is really big in the art world.”

    {Art Papers (Atlanta) 2008]
Ryan Steadman, Drain