By Tom Wachunas
“There is no art without intoxication. But I mean a mad intoxication! Let reason teeter! Delirium! The highest degree of delirium! Plunged in burning dementia! Art is the most enrapturing orgy within man's reach. Art must make you laugh a little and make you a little afraid. Anything as long as it doesn't bore.” -Jean Dubuffet
EXHIBIT: Curiosities: Work by Tom Megalis, THROUGH OCTOBER 26 at Translations Art Gallery, 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton www.translationsart.com/curiosities http://www.megalisart.com/
This collection of two and three-dimensional works (something of a mini-retrospective, actually) is a raucous hybridization of modernist visual languages. The earliest language goes back 100 years to Cubism, with its radical deconstruction of the painted picture plane and its integration of found objects. From there, it would be difficult to believe that Tom Megalis hasn’t consciously distilled a syntax that blends such dialects as Jean Dubuffet’s art brut, Saul Steinberg’s off-kilter cartoons, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s oracular primitivism, or Tim Burton’s more macabre figurations, to name just some.
That said, Megalis certainly brings his own imaginative recipe for animated storytelling - both prosaic and poetic - to this multiplicity of influences. Combined with his dizzying arsenal of fabrication techniques and media (read his statement at the gallery or on the Translations web page), he has concocted a highly textured gumbo, as it were, or chunky-style hunter’s stew of motley characters and narratives.
Some of his depictions - his jarring Trouble at the Doorstep from 1998, or the dowdy Smoking and Drinking Woman (2011), for example - are earthy, essentially low-relief sculptures, scruffily painted and constructed with utilitarian detritus such as slices of wood, scrap metal, and corrugated board. His three-dimensional pieces, such as the sinewy musician in Flute Shed, and the whimsical Brush Head Man, are gritty, highly tactile assemblages full of humor and mischief.
The more recent (2013) acrylic and spray painting, The Birth, is a commandingly sprawling abstraction. Far from a romanticized translation of wondrous or tender nativity, this is a visceral, writhing array of amorphous anatomical shapes interspersed with thick paint splats and drips – an altogether electrified grimace.
In general, the physical rawness of this art exudes a picaresque sensibility, not too unlike the untamed, indelicate spirit we once commonly associated with “outsider art.” So yes, to borrow from the Dubuffet quote above, this is indeed delirious art that can make you laugh,… or be a little afraid. The collection here presents a tenuous balance of innocent playfulness with palpable angst. Still, it’s art that intoxicates with an uncanny mystique.
PHOTOS, from top: The Birth; Trouble at the Doorstep; Brush Head Man; Eden; Stand Up