Bloody great apes

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Post by Kevin David Reay

[Editor’s note: We feel constrained to mention that Kevin Reay donned a monkey suit and took part in the opening ceremonies for the show he is reviewing here. He is not reviewing his own performance. Roberta’s take on this show is here.]

In “Wise Blood” Flannery O’Connor describes an America where you can buy a potato peeler or salvation and nobody gives a damn if you live or die. The book pokes a stick into the flabby underbelly of the nightmare that is the American dream and delves into the nihilistic void at the center of Western capitalist culture searching for truth in the illusion of freedom. Here we meet Hazel Motes a mock preacher who spreads the word of his own fake church, “the church of truth Without Christ Crucified” and shuffles through life with a curious conviction and purpose.

“The Church of Hazel Motes Without Hazel Motes” running Sept. 30 to Nov. 11 at Pageant Gallery uses O’Connor’s novel as both a subtext and a guide (left top, installation shot).

The exhibition features the work of a group known as the “Wasted Apes” which includes Mikey Wild, Christopher George, Alphonse Calatrava-Ruisenor and Sarah Gamble, who between them produce art that is visionary and trained, wild and restrained, arcane and contemporary.

Putting the manic in shamanic, Mikey Wild’s canvas board paintings show off his signature drawing style to its best effect. The surfaces ripple with an untamed menacing energy and are all wide-eyed and sharp pointy teeth. Wild holds a unique place in the art scene in Philly and is a regular visitor to local coffee shops hawking his marker pen drawings of Poe, Vincent Price and Jesus for a few dollars each. Wild (who was a punk before you was a punk, punk) takes that three-minute immediacy of old and injects an untutored raw honesty into all that he touches.

In a similar vein Sarah Gamble’s work has a disarming innocence that draws you in to her interior world of weird landscapes and opaque coloured shapes. Gamble, who is off to a residency at Bemis soon, was showing drawings and paintings until last week as part of the Fleisher Challenge 1 at the nearby Fleisher Art Memorial. Some of her works on paper are on show here alongside a wall painting that explores similar imagery and a sculpture that hangs like a dark furry cloud and casts a shadow over the proceedings like a spectre (you can see Gamble’s dark cloud, wall painting and works on paper in left image).

While the wall painting lacks some of the intensity of the works on paper the sculpture adds a degree of drama to the act of viewing the work that fits with the mood of uncertainty created by O’Connor’s book.

The centerpiece of the show, “The Ghost of Hazel Motes” by Calatrava-Ruisenor is a life-size paper cast of a Pontiac Safari illuminated from within like a ghostly apparition. Dominating the space despite it’s makeshift nature, the cast is like that of a snakeskin husk that leaves a fragile reminder of a host that has passed on to somewhere new (the front end of the Safari is in the top image).

Nearby two skateboard decks inscribed with line work looks like the result of an ancient Mayan hopped up on cocoa leaves who got hold some metallic marker pens and transformed the objects from modern mundane to that of a totemic fetish (left, one of Calatrava-Ruisenor’s skateboards).
Christopher George adds to the air of spiritualism with two mixed media pieces, “Cloudsplitter” and “Gonga Savant” and a 5-sided obelisk entitled “Marker.” George’s pieces merge religious iconography with automatic drawing, creating a fusion of organic paganism and high ecclesiasticism (right, George’s “Cloudsplitter”).

This transcendent alchemy, a thirst for truth and a crippling need for spirituality, not only underpins all the work in the show but also O’Connor’s book and it is these ingredients that makes this show a compelling visual and intellectual prospect.

–Artist Keven Reay is leaving Philadelphia to seek his fortune in Brooklynreay, kevingamble, sarahwild, mikeygeorge, christophercalatrava-ruisenor, alphonsewasted apes, the

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