Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Mirror images on the wall

Real Art Ways
56 Arbor St., Hartford, (860) 232-1006
Sam Gibbons
Through June 15, 2008.

Sam Gibbons' symmetrical acrylic paintings are a mutant marriage of Rorschach ink blots and R. Crumb underground comix graphics, with a healthy dash of Looney Tunes thrown in for good measure. In the late 1960's and early 70's there was an underground comic book series called Tales of Sex and Death. This imagery would have fit perfectly well within that context.

Gibbons, like several of the underground comix artists, takes the visual iconography of cartoons and what were called "funny animal" comics—think Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny for two of the most famous/infamous examples—and spices it with themes both macabre and lubricious. In the 1960's, this aesthetic strategy was a way of exposing the false front of a society steeped in Puritan repression and self-regard (when it was actually riven by racism and waging a brutal, criminal war in Vietnam). Transgression is pretty mainstream these days. At any rate, Gibbons' imagery might puzzle the kiddies but likely won't corrupt them.

Formally, each work is a symmetrical composition, each side mirroring the other. Painted on panel, the edges are cut to the image, as though the visual hubbub is bursting out of the frame. In the case of "Fed 'n Foul," there are even little black clouds surrounding the main panel.

Cartoon ghosts, entrails and bones populate these works. Eyeballs pop out of skulls. There is the occasional heave of Tom Wesselmann-like breasts. Anthropomorphized animals flash knowing—or stoned—grins. All of the paintings are executed with immense flair and good humor, maintaining a fine balance of anarchy and control.

Gibbons recently earned his M.F.A. from Hunter College. He is also a practicing dentist. Looking at these works is like ingesting a little visual laughing gas. Well, the underground comix were often passed around in an atmosphere fragrant with pot smoke and patchouli. Keep on truckin'.


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