Wednesday, July 21, 2010
By Tom Wachunas
“In order to acquire a growing and lasting respect in society, it is a good thing, if you possess great talent, to give, early in your youth, a very hard kick to the right shin of the society that you love. After that, be a snob.”
- Salvador Dali -
That little gem of dubious luster came from the same painter who gave us this equally cloudy bauble: “I don’t do drugs. I am drugs. Take me, I am the drug; take me, I am hallucinogenic.” Both of these quotes, though, are oddly suggestive of the resonant tonality in the inaugural group show of some 25 artists at Thirteenth Floor, the new gallery opened in downtown Massillon by proprietor Billy Ludwig, himself a digital artist and musician.
I’m certainly not saying that the work on display was generated by drug-crazed artists (though there is a distinctly mad, hallucinogenic air about much of it), nor venturing a guess as to their love of society (though the show leans generously toward unsettling, jarring content). If you’re an art viewer who stands on the sturdier conventions of figurative or natural beauty, or traditionally feel-good formal elegance, be prepared to have both shins soundly kicked.
Part of this emporium of the eerie is given over to horror-genre digital prints, skull masks, and zombie dolls (called Zombuddies – the perfect gift for that special little ghoul in your life) by Shock Studios (John Branham and Mike Skaggs). Ludwig’s own digital prints are ghostly explorations of familiar things cast in heavy grays and sepia tones. Several of them are imbued with a kind of dark romanticism.
Amid the works mounted salon-style on the walls, there are many that revel so solidly in unadulterated ugliness that you’d think real artistic talent was evidently not a requirement for inclusion. Of course there are some notably more “interesting” if not refined exceptions.
The figures in Megan Mars’ paintings seem to be of the same woman (self-portraits?), or at least share the same facial and body types – long haired and lanky. Some look like beleaguered, subtly erotic super-heroines from a graphic novel, and most are rendered in an ornamental, illustrative style that owes something to Art Nouveau. Call them narcissistic fantasies, perhaps. These aren’t, however, tributes to naturalistic or delicate feminine beauty so much as they’re codified symbols of attitudes, ideas, or lifestyles.
Fantasies of a different order are at work in the paintings by Bili Kribbs and Steve Ehret. They feature lots of well-drawn morphs and monsters, wildly surreal but not threatening, cavorting in strange, goofy scenarios.
The two most compelling paintings here are “Roses” by Kaylee Buzzard and “Delve” by Tina Meyers. The former is a very muscular and engaging collage that is anything but an innocent imitation of floral serenity. The latter (which deserves to be mounted at eye-level, not at its current neck-craning height) is all seething with painterly gestures and scratching. Somehow the primitively drawn figures of two dancing women hold the brushy, earth-toned muddy turbulence around them in tense equilibrium.
For all of its uneven quality, the overall look of this show points, arguably, to a shared psychology of angst-riddled urgency, a collective foray into ‘Sturm und Drang.’ At the moment, the world presented by the artists of the Thirteenth Floor is an unmistakably weird one. But it’s a world nonetheless theirs. I was just visiting.
Photo: “Eye Scream” (close-up) by Bili Kribbs, on view at Thirteenth Floor, 28 Charles Street, downtown Massillon (around the corner from Massillon Museum). Gallery hours 11a.m. to 7p.m., Tuesday- Saturday.