“Dance?” asks one of a pair of figures in a collaborative painting by the two artists in Thunder-Sky Gallery’s current exhibition, Reverse Psychology. “Sorry, not my type,” answers the other. The two inhabit a dreamy, fragmented setting; the pop-star-like woman wears a beehive hairdo, a polka dot dress and a prosthetic arm and the man is a stiff, Lincoln-esque fellow. Recent suggestions about this president’s secret longings may be read here, or it’s a comment on unease at being coupled with another, pretty different, artist, or it’s both. In any case, the figures are by Kathrine Michael, Florida folk/pop artist, and the background by David Rizzo, Cincinnati-based painter whose works are as fluid as Michael’s are precise. The collaboration was done through the mail for this joint exhibition, which runs through June 16.

Keith Banner and Bill Ross of Thunder-Sky have shown Rizzo’s work previously and were introduced to Michael’s through a couple of art fairs in which they all participated.. “Katherine is humming pop songs with the radio in her car after grocery shopping,” Banner writes in the Thunder-Sky blog, “and David is at a poetry reading, getting ready to go on stage.” The idea of putting these artists in the same room was irresistible. “Their works side by side are a little like having an angel on one shoulder, the devil on the other – and sometimes you don’t know which is which, who is who, what is what,” the gallery’s exhibition announcement says.

Actually, they are not hung side by side, and that’s a good idea. Michael’s bright, clear colors, flat and hard-edged, define people and animals and fruits and flowers in ordered disorder on the gallery’s north wall, while Rizzo’s work explores all sorts of ideas in a variety of ways, facing Michael’s hanging from across the room and also curling around to use the gallery’s rear wall and small spaces elsewhere.

Michael is deceiving. She has spent time perfecting a style that looks unsophisticated and unplanned but in fact is neither.  She shows us, in deliberately easy-to-read form, people we have made into icons (Martin Luther King, George Washington, Lucille Ball, the most recent royal British bride and groom, and –  I think – Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” couple, seen in separate works). We also like birds, dogs, cats, fish and deer, all represented by cut-out figures hung together to form an oval shape with a deer’s head as the focal point. Reminder that we do mount actual deers’ heads?  Down at lower right, out of the oval, a bull dog seems to have been ousted. Are there messages here?

The central section of the Michael presentation is made up of  a number of horizontal rectangles, roughly the same proportions as, but larger than, the view in your automobile’s rear vision mirror. Each piece in this series, she says, shows “a person, a place, a thing.” Below these works a line of cut-out figures includes the Statue of Liberty, swathed in teal blue and wearing pumps..Somewhere in all this – my notes are unclear and I think I was looking for American Gothic’s other half – is a cat with a human, rose-bud mouth.  Michael is irreverent, impertinent, and sharp.

Meanwhile, Rizzo is busy concocting his own worlds, sometimes employing reverse images joined at center, like Rorschach shapes. He doesn’t bother with titles. His paint goes on in grand swirls, fades in and out, and is sometimes augmented by complicated collages.  One large painting shows a standing figure whose belt and sequined bosom are three-dimensional. His subjects are lost and weary, symbols rather than people, and described, sort of, by the thrown-away name tags found in one work.  Under the HELLO! of the badge, where the person’s name would be, we can read “corpse,” “victim,” “addict.”

Where Michael has brought a specific style to fruition, Rizzo is always trying on another. He has a series of five photographs, much altered, that record his grandmother at play. She’s a grandmother who clearly likes to play, and has the non-grandmotherly looks to do so. There’s also a set of nine small rectangular boxes each presenting what I take to be a seascape incorporating a torn lottery ticket and a star-dotted sky.

In a wholly different endeavor, Rizzo has produced a trompe l’oeil work that purports to be a nicely grained wooden panel. The viewer is provided with a magnifying glass in order to read  (with difficulty) miniscule handwriting forming lines to indicate the grain. I made out repetitions of “weapon” and “free speech” and other implication-heavy words.

One corner of Thunder-Sky, as always, is given over to the alcove devoted to Raymond Thunder-Sky, whose unconventional approach to art inspired establishment of the gallery. Currently you can see there reports of recent recognition of Thunder-Sky’s work in Denmark and in London, both a long way from Hamilton Avenue.

Raymond Thunder-Sky, one thinks, would enjoy Reverse Psychology. Do you have friends whose approaches to life are vastly different but who might have interesting things to say to one another? Do you ever introduce these people and sit back to see what will happen? That’s what’s going on here. The gallery’s tongue-in-cheek publicity states: “Please, whatever you do, don’t attend this event.” (or) “. . . .don’t look at this blog post” (or) “. . .don’t visit this gallery.” Naturally, they expect the opposite to happen. The artists’ approaches are sometimes equally playful, especially from Michael, without slighting meaningful content and effective execution.

Thunder-Sky, Inc. is at 4573 Hamilton Avenue in Northside, open 6-8 p.m. Friday, 1-5 p.m. Saturday/Sunday, or by appointment. (513)823-8914; www.thunder-skyinc.blogspot.com .

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