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ART REVIEW: "Paintings"

Cultural imbibation


Lux Lounge is known as much for its eclectic and outlandish d├ęcor as it is for its mixed and open community. Oh, those lady leg tables, the disco ball, the skulls bearing flowers in their teeth, the themed nights, that address! Like many other "alternative art spaces" (read: the main biz is not an art gallery), Lux also hosts art shows and provides a bit of cultural backdrop for your boozin'. Hey, if there's alcohol at art venues, why not the other way around? The current show, up through the end of July, exhibits three painters with very different styles, who are all more or less concerned with the human form, whether legendary, ordinary, or grotesque.

The bar actually works well as a gallery despite uneven lighting (gallery spotlights are installed in dim areas) because each painting gets lots of breathing room, even in the seating nooks. High ceilings accommodate large-scale paintings, and the largely open set up of Lux allows viewers to step back a take it all in. Picking up a title and price list up at the door, I began making my way around the room, sort of bopping to the mix of mostly hip-hop and trip-hop, occasionally peppered with The Beatles' "I am the Walrus" and The Cardigans' "Lovefool." I definitely earned some strange and curious stares from regulars...I guess it's uncommon to find a young woman at a bar not drinking, but taking notes.

Most captivating were Sarah Rutherford's enormous depictions of a familiar face with a twist: Wonder Woman as an aging hero, rendered in a realist style that also hints at comic book covers. All four paintings are titled "Wonder Woman Series," and have a genuine presence to them. In No. 1, we are met with her calm, confident gaze - she is at once grandmotherly, delicate, and strong, with fierce, proud eyes. With a nod to sequential art, she is rendered three times in a seeming suburban scene in which a plane hovers close above a house with a well manicured lawn. Rutherford's palette is heavily red, white, blue, and gold: heroic and all-American.

Wonder Woman seems to take pride in the peace of the scene, but other paintings speak of more emotional complexity. In No. 4, a younger Wonder Woman kneels on the seashore at night, backed up to a dollhouse. Teasing the audience with a partially exposed, toned thigh, she embraces a headless and limbless mannequin torso swathed in Superman's uniform, her cheek pressed to his chest emblem. Though lost in longing, the woman is a wall - while we can guess at the meaning of the scene, Rutherford refrains from the use of highly dramatic gesture, and our hero is as mysterious as the miniature house next to her.

In No. 3, again elderly, WW still sports her costume. Do superheroes retire? Staring off and up into an open sky, her expression reminds me of a poised, dignified first lady, or a queen. Dramatic light and shadow on her face and in her eyes lend the look of a determined woman who will not relinquish the burden of duty.

The "hey, I'm officially disturbed" award goes to Robert Frank Abplanalp, whose works get its freak on disturbing your inebriated mind. Some are grotesque, others are silly, and he seems to have had fun making all of them. Near the pool table, "Prehistoric Cloud People" is alien and dreamlike, with a softly flowing sherbet landscape of creamy neons, Seuss-y trees, and highly detailed weirdo creatures. In "Mentally Incompetent," a leering, toothy guy points to his bald head and looks at us like we're sharing a secret. "The Pet" offers a splatter-y, disturbed looking man peeping up from bottom of the canvas, with a rat or small dog scrabbling precariously about on his matted hair.

From here on out, Abplanalp's works become increasingly sinister. "Mommy Loves Her Baby" is a mammoth, messy square with two figures and an infant, all barely discernible from the rest of the complex scene. Distorted, twisted, and dancing features appear and disappear in apparently rotting space. On the wall shielding the restroom doors (identified by a peach and a banana) from the bar is "Birds in the Forest," which resembles a darker version of Alice's encounters in the woods of Wonderland. But there's no absurdity here, only menacing creepies.

Rheytchul Chicken Bone's medium-sized canvases speak of madness and isolation. All are depressive heads in vague and dingy environments. With subtly varied tones of paint over canvas and scraps of material, facial forms begin to take shape, and the rest of the information is given to us in a few quick swipes of black sharpie.

"Bob Flanagan II" presents the infamous masochist (perhaps known best for his role in the oft-banned Nine Inch Nails video "Happiness in Slavery"), his image floating above a patched-texture surface, complete with drips where his neck should be. My brain insisted that I was looking at a severed head. In "Her Roots Were Sweet But They Were So Shallow," a woman meets your gaze with a sleepy and disillusioned, half-lidded expression. One breast is barely visible at the bottom of the canvas. The "Designer of the Neutron Bomb" has a gaping mouth and rolling eyes, a vision of complete drooling madness. Tell us how you really feel...

A small murder of ravens atop a wall seem to approve of the misery found below in three paintings entitled "Interpersonal Relationships," which house two aging couples. The two outer paintings form a diptych; the right hand is an eye-rolling, disgusted man, the left is his estranged partner who is equally unenthused. In the center, the canvas holds another cheerless duo: a man stubbornly avoiding eye contact with the woman who suspiciously stares at him. We seem to have caught them in the midst of their confrontation and evasion game. Their muddy mugs are close in proximity but the two couldn't be less connected. Congrats, Chicken Bone, you have manifested exactly the thing that terrifies me about growing old with someone. Between this and reading Miranda July all day, I'm ready for a drink.