Mike Jacobs, “1700 Miles Between Us,”

By: Karen S. Chambers

The Thompson House Shooting Gallery’s exhibition — “All the Usual Suspects” — is oddly titled since it suggests artists who are well known or familiar. But the participants are emerging and unfamiliar to most people although co-curators and gallery directors Jennifer Edwards and Jennifer Feld know them well.

This is the second show in the spacious gallery on the top floor of Newport’s music venue Thompson House, the reincarnation of the Southgate House. Kirt Lee, operating partner/manager, hopes to create “an all encompassing arts venue,” according to Edwards. Edwards and Feld’s brief there is to showcase national and local talent.

The “usual suspects” could have been rounded up because they all work in a specific medium – always a specious thesis – or with similar themes. I don’t see that here but I do discern a couple of commonalities in some of the work: Pop Art and DIY.

Allusions to Pop Art appear in several of the artists’ work. For example, Eric Cope’s snare drums in “Humid Drake,” 2011, look like a Warhol silkscreened image.

And there are hints of Pop artists Richard Hamilton and Roy Lichtenstein in David Wischer’s “5 Letter Words Series,” 2011-2012. Each 22” x 28” screenprint is in the shape of a pre-flat screen television.

Although I might have thought of Nam Jun Paik’s, it was the Brit Hamilton who came to mind, specifically his well-known 1956 collage “Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?” with its body builder flexing his muscles in the foreground and a console television set in the background.

Televisions represent popular culture, then and now, although the delivery systems for entertainment and news are changing. “I Love Lucy” on your iPhone anyone?

The grainy quality of Wischer’s images made up of many small colored circles reminded me of Lichtenstein’s Ben-Day dots, very 20th-century or maybe it’s a 21st-century pixilated digital print. Another possibility is to go back to Seurat’s 19th-century Pointillism.

Mike Jacobs’ “1700 Miles Between Us,” 2012, has a touch of James Rosenquist’s “F-111,” 1965. Jacobs’ eccentrically shaped wall work juxtaposes pop culture images with abstract elements, not unlike Rosenquist’s major opus.

The other aesthetic that I see tying some of the artists together is DIY — do-it-yourself, and I’m not talking about laying that wood floor yourself. DIY in the art context has its roots in the 1970s indie music scene when musicians sought alternative ways to disseminate their music. This has now evolved into groups offering free downloads to attract listeners to complete albums available for sale on-line and to their live performances.

But DIY has been extended from music to other arts and even to a way of life. A presumably British author, only identified as a “hopeless idealist,” declared that DIY describes Generation X, the baby boomlet produced by the Baby Boomers from the early ’60s to about 1981, 1982.

DYI culture has been created by the combination of economic disaster, demographic disaster (for us), and the easy availability of useful technology. The Baby Boomer generation have (sic – Danny, I think this would be correct British usage) all the jobs, and we have been left with both time on our hands and access to the technological means of production. If you want to do it, you’ve got to do it yourself.

The unnamed author goes on to write that the ideology, if there is one, is that everyone should have a go at doing what it is they want to do, not as a one-off but as an on-going (sic) project. The central aim is neither to shock nor (primarily) to become rich. The aim is to enjoy life, to have a good time, and lead a fulfilling lifestyle . . . . (http://www.waz.easynet.co.uk/swallow/3/diycult.html)

To a Baby Boomer that sounds a lot like the “back to the land” hippie philosophy of the late ’60s and early ’70s.


Several of the “usual suspects” turn to traditional crafts. K. T. Swartz has crocheted some things that would more likely be found on a child’s bed than on the wall in an art collection. (Interestingly they were all sold for between $25 and $45 each so I don’t think they’ll wind up in the nursery.)

“Bartholomew,” 2010, 11” tall, is a cuddly bear, and “Mario,” 11” tall, and “Myron,” 9” tall, both 2011, are both friendly octopi. All arcrochet from acrylic yarn – cheap, common, and a little nasty to touch. They are charming, but there may be more than meets the eye.

Consider the German artist Patricia Waller who makes felted and crocheted creatures that Margaret Eby describes as having “a macabre wit.” A jolly-looking shark chomping on a human leg dripping blood is illustrated, and Eby continues, “ . . . there are Disney characters with wool blood, severed limbs, smashed brains, and eerily cute looking wild animals with their freshly murdered meals hanging from their mouths.” (http://www.flavorwire.com/140464/10-artists-who-use-yarn-as-their-medium#6)

Swartz’s bear and octopi are far more benign.

Do you remember those woodburning kits and summer camp projects? I do. Doug Korfhagen uses this artsy-craftsy technique for his small paintings on slices of wood with the bark left on. Korfhagen’s draughtsmanship is awkward, and the hobbyist woodburning technique reinforces that naïve quality.

His “Kristina, Erin, and Selena” is intriguing and confounding. In an outdoor setting, a sulky looking woman lies on her stomach. She has an exaggerated 1960s era beehive hairdo and makeup and is attended by Erin — a pre-pubescent girl or an adolescent boy? In the background a girl stands on a tree stump with arms outstretched like a supplicant. What is going on?

The work of two other artists particularly attracted and amused me. Married to each other, they also share an affinity for the decorative.

In Arynn Blazer’s “Bunnies,” 2011, silhouetted rabbits, like those shadows we make with our hands in front of a light, are painted on toile-patterned scrapbook paper. They peek out from among the luscious blossoms and are barely noticeable, just like, I’m sure, the rabbits would like it.

Joel Blazer has painted stencil-like designs of abstracted flowers on skate decks. Displayed on the wall, “Floral Arrangement(s),” 2012, recall Oceanic tribal art, not a tribe of skateboarders.

Thompson and Feld’s “usual suspects” are worth making an appointment to see since the Shooting Gallery has no regular hours. Or you could go to the closing party on the last Saturday in July (July 28th) from seven to 11.

“All the Usual Suspects” on view through July 28, 2012, at the Thompson House Shooting Gallery, top floor, 24 E. 3rd St., Newport, KY 41071. www.facebook/TheThompsonHouseShootingGallery. Open by appointment (Jennifer Feld, 513-460-1844, [email protected]). Closing July 28, 7 to 11 p. m.


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