By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Kyle Swenson
By David Villano
By Kyle Swenson
By John Thomason
By Michele Eve
The artist's explanation is equally bizarre: "A fragment of Gary Cooper's personality was lodged in a massive termite mound in rural Australia the exact instant his film Wings won the best picture Oscar in 1927, and there it exists to this day. This painting is my interpretation of this little-known yet historic event."
Other pictures feature such funky elements as a drunken Shriner riding a pink elephant, a two-headed hula dancer, a miniature Abraham Lincoln, cartoon cats with tattoos, winged eyeballs, and an elderly Olive Oyl as a fashion model. The smallest gallery downstairs is devoted to six works that focus on skull imagery.
Two artists merit a floor all to themselves: The three galleries upstairs showcase two dozen or so pieces by Skot Olsen and W. Kelley Lucas (art director for this paper), two Broward-based artists whose work pretty much runs the lowbrow gamut. Lucas has a knack for long, Daliesque titles that bear little reference to the content of the image. His The Unwitting Recipient of D. Julias' DNA and the Indistinguishable Difference Between Bedtime and Malaise (1995), for example, is a large acrylic on canvas that veers more sharply in the direction of abstraction than most lowbrow art.
But Lucas also has a mordantly funny side. In Ascension of the Potato's Wife (2000), he portrays a mourning Mr. Potato Head and four vegetable friends gathered around the grave of Mrs. Head, while her spirit, in the form of a winged cartoon of French fries, rises heavenward. And his Mother(1999) is an unsettling sick joke of a portrait consisting of a head with two large, unmatched eyeballs and, instead of a nose and mouth, a long, oozing vagina.
Olsen's pieces are typically more cluttered, more ambiguous, and often downright surreal. It's as if he crams as much pop culture as he can get his hands on into a blender and lets it spew out in weird new combinations. Thrills! Pills! And Grills! (1998) plays havoc with the story of Saint George and the dragon by putting a young, leather-clad Elvis on the back of an old, fat Elvis, confronting a dragon wearing a chef's hat and spewing pills from its mouth. The dragon's back is an open charcoal grill, and instead of a lance, the young Elvis wields a long spatula.
With The Facts of Life (1999), Olsen serves up a wry commentary on the misinformation that's usually part of a teenager's understanding of sex. A pimply boy with braces stands lost in a sea of garbled imagery, including a bee and a hummingbird copulating and various diagrams of the female reproductive system. Olsen also dabbles in disturbing religious imagery, as in Satan (1998), in which he juxtaposes the title figure, portrayed as a large, hideous goat man, with a cleric presiding over the executions of two women, one hanged, the other burning at the stake.
Olsen's artist's statement upstairs includes a good overview of much lowbrow art: "My artwork is a product of both horror and humor. For as long as I can remember, I have loved monsters. I don't mean the ones in movies so much, but the real ones. Huge, creeping shapes in deep oceans, predatory insects hunting with multiple eyes and fangs, escaped lunatics thirsty for blood.
"I view life through darkened glasses, not looking up at its smiling face, but rather, downward at its slimy underbelly."
Is the Art and Culture Center courting controversy with the funny but intentionally shocking works in this show? Probably. A lot of humorless people can't seem to resist getting offended. And those are exactly the people who should stay home when an exhibition like this comes to town.