There were years when the buildings sat empty—the buildings on the northwest corner of Carlisle and Central, at the otherwise vibrant center of Albuquerque’s Nob Hill commercial district—empty, boarded-up, unused. Street artists dripped their names onto the surrounding asphalt, spray-painted the particle board in the windows and applied posters to every surface with homemade glue. I remember once standing there in the middle of the night with a crew—our bags full of supplies, waiting for a space of even two minutes without a cop car driving by.
Now, however, art is on that corner year-round. It’s in Stranger Factory, a unique gallery from the internationally acclaimed art collective Circus Posterus, and from now until the end of October, it’s there as Bewitching III, Stranger Factory’s special Halloween-themed exhibit.
Owned by artists Kathie Olivas and Brandt Peters, Stranger Factory stands as Albuquerque’s embassy of the weird, the surreal, the postmodern and the unsettling—a shining glass enclave of Japanese vinyl toys, adorably grotesque oil paintings … um, orange plastic deer … and the mounted heads of unnerving dream animals. Nothing there is boring, everything is interesting, and all of it is presented elegantly, whether it’s a nightmarish pink-and-black worm suspended from the ceiling or a demonic angel painted on a coffin lid. There’s art, art books and an enormous woman’s head with an octopus tentacle for a tongue.
Bewitching III is Stranger Factory’s third annual Halloween exhibit. Hence the III. The show’s theme is “vintage Halloween,” and about 40 artists and designers from Albuquerque and around the world have contributed to it, drawing from the imagery and tone of one of the year’s strangest, creepiest holidays (third after the Fourth of July and Christmas) to create one of the strangest, creepiest shows in recent history. The show’s artists this year include Jessica Joslin, with three-dimensional sculptures that seem to combine animal skulls with fantastical armor; Joseph Scarano, with cartoonish oil paintings of impossibly disfigured people; Shing Yin Khor, with a colorful sculpture of a Cthulhu-like larva reclining in a sweater; Amanda Spayd, with skew-eyed cast-resin monsters peering out from dirty gauze; Stephan Webb, with a realistic bronze-and-steel zombie chipmunk; and many more. There are paintings, sculptures and art in just about every medium.
Owned by artists Kathie Olivas and Brandt Peters, Stranger Factory stands as Albuquerque’s embassy of the weird, the surreal, the postmodern and the unsettling—a shining glass enclave of Japanese vinyl toys, adorably grotesque oil paintings … um, orange plastic deer … and the mounted heads of unnerving dream animals.
Curated entirely by Aubrie Peters—who I think of first as a stone-faced member of legendary local band Teenage Werewolves, ritualistically attacking a drum, but who is also a talented art director with notable taste—this show may leave even the most jaded connoisseurs of pop surrealism feeling affected.
“Halloween is always super-fun,” Peters said, in an interview before the exhibit’s opening. “So, that also allows the artists the chance to express themselves kind of in a more dark matter, right? In a more creative matter. … It’s themed to Halloween, or like, dark interests, so it gives them that spectrum to work with, but it’s not specifically themed like a specific show, which tightens them in a certain corner—so it does allow them to express themselves, I think, more individually with their stuff.”
In one piece, an octopus lurks in a plastic jack-o-lantern, poised to rocket out. In another, a mime lies dead with a knife in each hand. Three-eyed crabs wearing pumpkins for shells gather at night at a stump for a meeting. A skeleton in a tuxedo hangs in the sky between a white sun and bare-rock hills. A clown stands with his back to a burning forest. A blank-eyed girl bleeds from her nose and smiles. A dun-colored robot steps out of a suitcase, and anyone who gets too close to it discovers that the antenna coming out its head is also a theremin that will squawk electronically and startle you. I spent quite a bit of time with that robot when I attended the show’s opening, an opening packed with people excitedly examining and discussing every piece.
“It might resonate with people’s youth or stuff that made them feel good when they were younger,” Peters said of people’s response to the theme and the work. “Or, just, I don’t know, it’s just kind of a darker crowd also—this appeals to creative dark kids, creative dark people. … It’s just trying to take everything creative, and everyone’s creativity, basically, and just smash it all together.”
Everything is better with art. Back when the buildings on this corner sat boarded-up and empty, in desperate need of some life or color, my friends and I never got a long enough moment—a moment without the risk of being served with handcuffs or protected from our own artistic impulses—and we eventually gave up and went elsewhere. But art made it here anyway—and way better art than the stuff I would have left—darker, stranger, more fun. Find a chance between now and the end of the month to come by Stranger Factory and check it out for yourself. You may end up taking a piece home, or you might just take home a feeling, under your skin.