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Overload — The Webb Collection — "From vintage carnival banners and religious banners to contemporary folk art and art of many forms, the common thread running through the Webb’s collection is a powerful overload of exploding strong individual expression." — at The MAC through July 11, 2004

Wild Garage Muses

Norbert Kox - Harlot of Babylon
 

Photographs by J R Compton

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"Bad Is Good" came a little too late to save WestCiv©. By the time it'd trickled down from Cloud-Cuckooland, it met a fetid tide of corporate kitsch gallumphing the other way which utterly whelmed it; & Elvis is seen to belong to a chapter in the history of religion as much as to the history of art.

Can anyone born after, say, 1945 be at all the same as a Folk Artist (tm) of the earlier ilk, — even if they were raised, in Grand Prairie, by prairie dogs? Is "American Idol" Folk Art? Is a homeless shantytown?

What if a loser from that show comes to live in such a place; & keeps on singing, listened to or not? Let me start by defining a Shadow Genre as what people do in emulation of a practice their culture regards as Art; "Shadow" because, unlike a grad student or a celebrity who paints on the side, no corresponding career path exists for that hapless unsung Milton.

The chances are good a landfill awaits every one of their works, no matter how accomplished, because most people do not know Art without a cassette headphone on & furthermore earnestly believe this to be a Good Thing.

Vomit Clocks

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Meanwhile, in the rarefied Art World, where to be misunderstood in a certain way is tantamount to being given permission to make a living at it, the ideas associated with Romanticism have mutated to the point where "amateurish"-looking drawing is zealously cultivated by artists at every level of the subculture except the true amateur — just as it's only poets outside the haiku-in-english subculture who count syllables 5, 7, 5 like the Japanese.

Call it "wabi" rather than "amateurishness." Your kid could do it & probably has. Perhaps now that we are safely insulated from traditional besabertoothed genius by generations of saprophytic jabberwocky, it's the only rude jab art has left for us. A certain coarseness of execution, owing (in the first place) to the artist being too hot on the trail of a revelation, to bother with trivial craft.

Note how central drawing is — often combined with writing—: these artists think on their feet; & WANT to be understood. Secondly, availibilism. They don't usually patronize art boutiques; even a hardware store, i imagine, can seem just a bit too squeaky clean. There's more mana in a dumpster.

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Odd Fellows Paper Maché Eye

 

I like Norbert Kox's Harlot of Babylon the best of these works at the Overload show at the MAC: a selection of twenty years' collecting from that amazing institution down in Waxahachie, the Webb Gallery.

Kox's painting is a lot like other visionary artists i admire — Ernst Fuchs, in the 20c., most emphatically — & it is cryptic in the best sense, not because of coyness but because what the artist is compelled to say, has come out of a place wholly prior & foreign to those convenient symbol-systems we ordinarily grok symbolic art with.

The artist has spared no pains to render exactly a most peculiar monster, a six-headed praying mantis with the hindquarters of T. Rex — & ridden by a Jesus-headed goddess with the torch arm of the Statue of Liberty. Any artist living would give their left hand to have created such powerful work. I only hope the good people at Webb shelled out a whole lot of crackerjacks for it.

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Too many of the other works in the show are barely more than make-you-grin weird, without going anywhere you don't want to end up unless fully equipped with army boots, a flashlight, & maybe a high-powered
automatic.

For those trained in instant-appropriation & frankness-to-materials, they are delightful exactly & only on that level. One thing noticeable about a large gathering of this art, & not when a piece is seen singly, is a sort of medieval anonymity. It's not hard to imagine them abandoned beside the highway like turtle eggs left forlornly on the shore.

 

Cathey Miller - Cupcake Trilogy - Panel #3:
The Order of the Cupcoke
oil 48 x 69 inches, 2003
 

How lovely to find, right next door, Recent Paintings from Cathedonia by Cathey Miller. Unlike Eberle, whose art-seriousness cannot be questioned, these paintings do at times seem product of a wild garage muse & not a shelfful of Artaud Dubuffet. They are badly drawn (except the faces, all of the same person), obsessively repetitious, confusingly planned, & colored in a garishness that is like a circus clown's idea of psychedelic art.

"The Voluptua Twins," for instance, has two space women in mustard yellow suits, standing over one of the flying pigeon-headed lobsters they must have just shot down; between them floats a crudely rendered, bespangled image of the double star Beta Lyrae. — I love the bald goofishness of it all.

In poetry right now there is an equivalent movement called "Flarf". These are over-educated poets who are hellbent on coming up with something unacceptable even to the very broad canons of the institutional avant garde. I believe Cathey Miller has attained to that unnatural beatitude.

06 05/06 04

Links: Cathey Miller ; The MAC

 

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