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 V.20 No.50 | December 15 - 21, 2011 

Gallery Review

Freak Show

Stranger Factory’s Winter Salon is like an adorable nightmare

Vexadorae by Jon Mcnair
Vexadorae by Jon Mcnair
It's beckoningly grotesque, mischievously menacing and intriguingly oddball. That would be Stranger Factory's Winter Salon, host to the work of about two dozen artists, both local and international. Gallery owners Kathie Olivas and Brandt Peters say the exhibit is more broad-spectrum than past offerings. "This show was about affordability, accessibility and introductions, and also a holiday show," says Peters. In addition, it’s a way to expose emerging artists to the cultish following of collectors of creepy toy-art. The husband-and-wife duo say this demographic has helped make the gallery a global name. (Case in point: Its December show from artists Chris Ryniak and Amanda Louise Spayd sold out in a day, largely through online sales to foreign markets.)

“Melvin” by Ryan Friant
[click to enlarge]
“Melvin” by Ryan Friant
The salon is housed in a large showroom, added since the gallery’s opening in May. Much of the work here, and continuously on display at the Factory, are resin sculptures of ghoulish, reptilian and space-age creatures. Olivas and Peters, along with their decade-old artist collective, Circus Posterus, work with sculptors and casting houses to get editions of these strange beings, which are then hand-painted by CP artists. The reigning vibe is very Nightmare Before Christmas. It’s not exactly reinventing the wheel aesthetically, although the finesse is usually stunning. The creatures have the perfection of assembly-line action figures, assuming that assembly line was on a planetary hybrid of Mars and hell—and situated in a bayou.

Skelves by Rob Schwager and Brandt Peters
[click to enlarge]
Skelves by Rob Schwager and Brandt Peters
Those critters also take form in other mediums at the show. Some of the more interesting incarnations come from Midwestern artist Jon MacNair. His small, India-ink-on-paper illustrations are reminiscent of the art seen in old circus freak-show posters. His "Vexadorae" is an exquisite corpse figure with a reptilian body. Its belly is slit open, and out of it coil dumb-eyed snakes, licking their tongues at the air. A spiny dragon head acts like a spur on the beast's tail. It has bat wings, ears made of the same skin, horns and a furry Medieval coif protecting a demonic face that spits forth a serpentine tongue. On top of the creature's head is another head that looks like a dying, leprous old man with tentacled hair and a spike protruding from his skull. The work is elegantly rendered for such a vile offering, and truly vexing.

Curious No. 7 by Jon Macnair
[click to enlarge]
Curious No. 7 by Jon Macnair
Then there's the mixed-media sculptures of local artist Ryan Friant. The rough, folk-arty imperfections of these characters are reminiscent of the figures in Dave Borthwick's stop-motion classic The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb. Aside from a deformed take on Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, my favorite is "Melvin," a dead-eyed maroon cat with a turquoise belly and crocodilian teeth. His feet look like Mexican pointy boots, and he has a devil's tail. His three-pronged hand holds a bouquet of white feathers that stem from a cactus-like orb. Melvin is awful cute and cuddly. But if he were alive he'd probably scratch out your eyes and drink milk from the empty sockets.

Friant is one of a handful of locals in the show, and it's comforting to see Stranger Factory bring more nearby talent into the fold as they expand and gain recognition. Several patrons I observed at the exhibit seemed happily taken aback. They were wide-eyed and cackling. They might have been looking into a mirror.

Winter Salon

Runs through Jan. 3
Stranger Factory
109 Carlisle NE

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