Curator Brad Nack was looking for something creepy and scary for his latest show at MichaelKate Interiors and he may have gotten more than he expected. There’s some artistic madness going down at the furniture showroom that doubles as a gallery, making for one of MichaelKate’s boldest shows of the year.
Fans of La Luz de Jesus gallery and the pop surrealist movement will instantly groove on the very large paintings by Christopher Ulrich and his “Demoneater” series. But equally scary is Christina Tonges Korn and her spectral paintings. These balance against the more mellow works by Barbara Romain and the pop art explosions of Wallace Piatt, the only local in the show. It might be an unfair battle, two unhinged artists going up against two more “normal” ones (friends of the artists may begin debate here!), but the mix of color and scale work themselves out nicely.
Mr. Ulrich demands our attention first, because his Bosch-like landscapes and figure work jump out at you right from the entrance, even though his central work, “Chicken Soup” hangs halfway across the store. It’s multi-figured landscape — including a three-headed naked woman, Cthulu-esque demons, Medusa demons, and a creature with a head for a torso (possibly Mr. Ulrich himself) — that looks into a fiery eye that is setting over an unwell sea. Anyone who thinks Mr. Ulrich is just borrowing from the masters in a post-modern reference fest should check the back of the wooden canvas where Mr. Ulrich’s notes to himself can be seen. Yes, he does borrow from Gothic and Renaissance religious art, but these oil works are filled with arcane, alchemic symbology and his own personal references. There’s no nodding or winking in the cracked, self-portrait “Leviathan” or in the evil “Demoneater II (The Exit).” The conquistador with the head of a bulldog (“Crusader”) amuses, because, you know, dogs are funny.
If Mr. Ulrich looks like he’s tamed the beast, Ms. Korn paints as if possessed. Her brushwork is rough, her palette muted, as if she’s seen something awful and needs to get it down quickly. The earliest work here, “They Say Everything You Do Is a Self Portrait” is a plain shock, a portrait of a young girl whose face has been reduced to a black shroud and yellow orbs. “Hallway” features a black figure scrunched up in a corner of an apartment, while “Closet” features a ghostly hand hanging alongside coats and shirts. These are haunted paintings in the best sense. One suspects they move when nobody’s looking at them.
Barbara Romain is the third L.A. artist in the show, and works large and in a variety of colors and stencils. She is legally blind, struck with a rare form of retinitis pigmentosa, so her art has adapted to it. These are all 6×6 canvases, four devoted to the elements, others as riffs on jazz music, like “Bad Eye on the Good Foot.” They come loaded with text, cartoony figures and shapes swirling around in a circular world, and are passive compared to Ms. Korn’s aggressive paint.
Finally, Wallace Piatt’s post-Warholish combinations of screenprints and icon worship round out the show. Mr. Piatt continues in his ever-more complicated style with appearances from Johnny Cash, Geronimo, majestic horse heads, and Margaret Thatcher, who now wears a trucker hat bearing the word “Thrasher” (from Skateboard Magazine), and an outfit made from miniature Sid Vicious faces. They are both political and apolitical at the same time, iconic choices rendered impotent with accumulated commercial signage. Establishment and rebels both get reduced to signage in Mr. Piatt’s art, mimicking the effect of consumerism on rebellion. They might be the scariest works here.
Art from Silver Lake, Highland Park, West Los Angeles and Santa Barbara
When: Through Nov. 11
Where: MichaelKate Interiors, 132 Santa Barbara St.
Information: (805) 963-1411, www.michaelkate.com