He-Man and the dancing bear in the garden of Eden
Land of Misfits, which closes at the Center for Visual Artists in Greensboro on Friday, takes toys as its point of departure, using childhood motifs as an arena for adult imaginations, with a significant emphasis on the creep factor.
The term shows up in the title for a number of pieces in the group show. Exhibit 1 is “Creepy Baby Jesus,” a cast bronze sculpture by the artist Boston that depicts a baby with vacant eyes bored through with a rectangular slot through center mass.
I prefer “Untitled,” a companion piece by Boston that shows a disemboweled teddy bear with a howling, multi-faced skull protruding from the abscess. For me, the sculpture subverts the benign dancing bear of my childhood infatuation with the Deadhead scene by making the cuddly stuffed animal a victim of a gruesome World War I artillery attack.
A sign posted near the entrance of the gallery warns that that artwork “may be unsuitable for children,” and Land of Misfits proceeds with tongue planted firmly in cheek as the show examines the corruption and dissolution of childhood innocence.
Two of Samantha McPeters’ paintings feature small troll dolls. “He’s Been Creepin’ on Me” depicts a young woman with a look of profound unease as the troll doll eyes her from behind. The troll reappears standing atop a bull, having slaughtered the creature by firing a bullet into its head with a small pistol. Somehow, the lush farmland spread and distant mountains make the scene all the more disturbing, as if the world in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden had been undone by a demonically possessed toy rather than epic sibling rivalry and family betrayal.
Andy Foltz’s painting “The End of Eternia” revels in the fantasia of 1980s cartoon nostalgia while promoting the antihero. “Grayskull burns, He-Man bleeds and Skeletor rises triumphant,” a textual description added to the painting, captures the action. There’s no subtly or hidden message, and who needs them?
Josue A. Roman’s “Toys I Never Played With,” a series of staged photographs, captures the joy of masculine adventurism in child’s pretend play. The scene is familiar enough: A Rambo-esque commando fighter stands with oversized weaponry astride a heavy-duty pickup driving along a sandy creek bank with dinosaurs protruding from the water. It evokes a militaristic fantasy of mastering nature, even in prehistory, that was all the more alluring to those of us who were raised in the post-Vietnam era by PC parents determined to shelter us from the violent themes of mass culture.
The arena for playful adult imagination based on grist from childhood toyland is basically endless. While this exploration could go in many directions, it inevitably lingers over the creep factor.
Dolls? They’re pretty creepy. Brittney A. May uses old dolls, some with missing limbs, as the basis for figurines embellished with eggshells, honeycomb, onion peel, dried flower petal, animal bones and various insect wings. Their comportment suggests decay, yes, but also a transformation into a fantastic and mildly disturbing realm of goblins.
Julie Armbruster’s paintings, which are populated by strange hybrid creatures, recalls Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book Where the Wild Things Are.
It’s not clear where exactly Danielle Adcock’s mannequin draped in a playing card dress floating amidst a bevy of papier-mâché balloons resides in toyland, but it’s fabulous nonetheless.
In the world of toys and child’s play, the storylines are endlessly mutable. Who needs tidy endings when the world of make-believe beckons with each new day?
The closing event for the Land of Misfits exhibit takes place on Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Center for Visual Artists, located at 200 N. Davie St. in Greensboro. Call 336.333.7845 for more information.