Is anyone feeling less-than-jazzed about the state of the world right now? Despite some promising regional wins from last week's midterm elections, on a national scale, the current political climate leaves a lot to be desired. With that said, do I have to tell you what inspired the upcoming art show Outrage at City of Mud gallery?
"I'm leaving an open-ended interpretation," says City of Mud's Sasha Pyle. Still, I pressed during a conversation with the energetic, extremely likable show curator—how many of these angry artworks are related to politics? "I would say political angst is a unifying theme," she says, "but what that looks like takes different forms."
The show, which opens Friday, is a group effort, with roughly two dozen artists contributing works related to their own interpretations of outrage—a feeling as universal as it is ineffably personal. "Artists have the right and the responsibility to express all sides of the human condition," Pyle says. "I wanted to provide a platform for moments when artists don't censor themselves."
Open since 2015, City of Mud is in my neck of the woods—a neighborhood which one friend winningly describes as "behind the palm reader on St. Francis." More specifically, the gallery sits across from Tune-Up Café, on the same side of Hickox Street as Aranda's Plumbing. It's a fairly inconspicuous address—neither in the Baca Street or Railyard Art districts, but I think this limbo serves the space well; its literal neither-here-nor-there location aligns with an oddball ethos that's immediately endearing.
After chatting about some of the city's more historic gallery-hopping areas, Pyle, an artist herself, says, "Galleries often put pressure on artists to produce a certain kind of work, to show things that aren't too controversial, which I think of as a kind of implied censorship—we feel like we can't express a full range of emotions and reactions to the world around us." Pyle remarks that in light of the ongoing turmoil at home and abroad, "it feels inappropriate and slightly dishonest to do business as usual. I want to shake things up a little bit and give a voice to artists who aren't trying to be easily digestible or 'pretty.'"
Clearly, Michelle Goodman got the memo. Her clay and wire sculpture "Vagina Dentata, Snapping Pussy" looks sort of like a spread-open, ummmm, beaver trap. Oval-shaped and just under a foot high, it's reminiscent of those bizarre, menacing pieces of furniture from Beetlejuice; poised to slip off the wall and nip at your ankles. But "Vagina Dentata" is peculiarly appealing rather than creepy. In fact, for a show whose artists examine border conflicts, war and violence, Outrage, overall, is oddly beguiling. "My goal isn't to depress or discourage people," Pyle says. "There are plenty of other entities that are doing a bang-up job of that right now."
Cameroonian artist and activist Issa Nyaphaga faced torture and prison time for protesting his home country's oppressive, dictatorial regime. In Nyaphaga's photographic self-portrait, the artist's face and chest are partially obscured by his outspread hands, which are covered in pale, chalk-like dots, zigzags and stripes. The wall behind him is a mashup of words, doodles and collaged images; altogether, it's as commanding as it is enigmatic.
Brad Bealmear's "Reckoning 2" at first looks completely abstract, its lime green surface overlaid with smudgy black lines. As our eyes adjust, we start to
notice that those black-on-green strokes are in fact limbs, which belong to an upside-down, falling human body, arms spread out diagonally across the canvas. Bealmear's painting might seem visually ambiguous, but the sentiment behind it is not. "We are in deep shit," Bealmear tells SFR via email. "Humans," he maintains, "encrust, poison, scrape, kill and act as a terminating parasite. We don't even give the topsoil our dead bodies and waste."
The patina on Deb Martin's bronze vessel "Feast or Famine" has a spooky greenish tinge, spread out across its surface and settling into its ridged sides. The uneasiness is enhanced by the vessel's base, made of little bones; its rim is adorned with clusters of tiny, Barbie-head-sized skulls.
"I want people to know they're not alone in feeling sad, or angry," says Pyle. "Maybe the show will encourage us to think, 'Hey, I can do something creative, something transformative with my anger, too.'" Outrage is not, by definition, pleasant, and although the show veers into dark, sometimes macabre territory in its exploration of anger, it's overwhelmingly validating—even empowering. "I think there are going to be a lot of things that people will find a sense of relief or humor or community in," Pyle adds, "even in themes that are painful."
Next up for City of Mud? Another group show this fall, called Bliss.