The Ghost Empire Collective, an all male artist collective from Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, began their first gallery season with Die Cupid Die at The Famous Neons Unplugged. The core idea behind the Ghost Empire Collective, recently formed in late 2011, is to bring art to audiences in non-traditional art spaces such as restaurants and bars.

I love the idea of bringing art to audiences in settings that promote a certain comfort level; viewing art doesn’t have to be confined to the gallery or museum setting but can be enjoyed in a space where people meet every day.

During the opening reception the Famous Neons Unplugged was crowded, swarming with locals enjoying drinks, conversation and art in a chilled environment. My eyes roamed the walls of the bar taking in paintings, illustrations, mixed media and collage in styles that embraced elements of street art, graffiti art, underground art, pop surrealism and  traditional art elements.

Based solely on the show’s title Die Cupid Die I wasn’t really sure what to expect. You won’t find cute and cuddly cupids or delicate flowers at this show but you will find whimsical artwork exploring love, heartbreak and romance from the male artist perspective. The participating artists include Anthony “Tank” Mansfield, Jamie C. Filer, Mike Maydak, Kurt Einhaus, Rob Meyer and Snotty RLE.

“A Dream of an Octopus’s Husband” is one of the pieces on display that immediately drew my attention. Set against a pale blue sea, a long-limbed female crawls out of the water on a nearby beach while being ensnared by a large engorged orange octopus in a sexually suggestive position. What I love about this painting by Mike Maydak is the vibrant use of colors, the seductive surreal quality of the female’s body and the strategically placed tentacles around the woman’s breasts and waist forming a very revealing outfit (think the Princess Leia slave girl outfit from Star Wars).

“Scar Tissue With a Pretty Face” by Jamie C. Filer takes the notion of cupid’s arrow to another level.  A woman with a Mexican style death mask clad in skeleton garb is struck by an arrow through her spray painted heart.  Wrapped around the arrow is a note conveying the message that the artist will leave the woman with a scar. A lover’s revenge painterly style.

In Anthony “Tank” Mansfield’s piece “The Beginning of a Relationship” the viewer is presented with a black and white print of a blank cassette tape. It’s such a simple yet potent image that plays with the pop culture reference of mixed tapes. One can recall the rush of romantic feelings attached to receiving that first mixed tape filled with gushy songs of love. The image has an easy to understand message; the tape is blank and clean like a brand new relationship.

The Ghost Empire Collective’s opening drew a huge crowd and lots of positive energy. Part of the success of the show was the energy that the audience brought with them. Without an audience art lacks its true power. With a catchy, clever theme and title Die Cupid Die takes the power away from the heartbreaker and puts it in the hands of the lovelorn.  My only complaint with the show was that there wasn’t more artwork.  The reception’s festivities not only included artwork but also including live art making, audience participation, performance art and commissioned custom Valentine’s Day cards/sketches for only $5.

Die Cupid Die will be on display at The Famous Neons Unplugged through February 24 with a closing reception that evening from 8 p.m.-1 a.m.

–Shawn Daniel

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