ART REVIEW: Saints, pervs, and St. Paul 

Saints & PRVRTS

Through April 30

1975 Gallery @ Surface Salon, 658 South Ave


Tue-Thu noon-8 p.m., Fri 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Sat10 a.m.-4 p.m.

The Saint Paul Project Featuring the work of Kurt Ketchum

Through April 6

4Walls @ VenuResto-Lounge & Nightclub, 151 St. Paul St.

442-7824, [email protected]

Mon-Sat 8 p.m.-2 a.m.

A fresh pair of shows with street-art roots opened this month in two alternative gallery spaces. Each exhibit blurs the line between the art-going crowd and potential new clientele for the host businesses, while presenting three talented artists to an array of audiences who might not frequent the usual art houses.

Gracing the walls of Erich Lehman's semi-permanent pop-up 1975 Gallery at Surface Salon is "Saints + PRVRTS," a collaborative graffiti-art show by two members of The Sweet Meat Co., St. Monci and Mr. Prvrt. The duo completed this new body of tight, detailed work -- 37 pieces in all, juggled with full-time jobs -- in a short two-week aftermath of The Sweet Meat's installation at the Hungerford, an endeavor that caused them some stress but resulted in a set of seriously crispy paintings. And impressively, they're about to do it all over again as part of the On The Cut stencil show line-up at 4Walls Gallery on April 2.

"I repainted six paintings -- two of the sets -- three times before I was finally happy with the direction they were taking," says St. Monci, the artist behind the triptych "Saints." "I wanted to do something different than what people had seen from me, and the white backgrounds weren't creating that sense of 'purity' I was looking for, ironically. I knew I wanted the pieces to be very angelic/holy, but in a very kitschy way, borderline cheesy. The challenge was taking my 'graffiti' language -- a language known to be bold, hard and edgy -- and reflecting that into a softer more heavenly/happy energy.

His solution was to paint bold and citrus-hued backgrounds, with bursts of abstracted, converging white-light energy, marked sporadically with pencil to give a hint of the architectural element of heaven, topped off with high-gloss glaze, and sided with what he calls "awesomely bad gold plywood edges," meant to resemble Catholic altarpieces.

St. Monci's freestyle, intangible holy-holies have puckish titles like "On the 3rd Day He Chilled," "The Ghetto Crusades," and "Father, Son, Holy Cow," and contrast nicely with Mr. Prvrt's stenciled "deviants": scavenged trays, platters, and wood cutting boards painted in jewel tones and layered with highly detailed stencils forming the black-and-white images of various pervy celebs, a few of the artist's friends, as well as a self-portrait. Some of the characters are expected -- Pee-Wee Herman, Howard Stern, Robin Williams, Larry Flynt -- but others left me scratching my head and sifting through my limited tabloid knowledge. The artist says that "the one consistency between them all is that I consider each person to have an influence on my artwork and personality. Some of these figures go back to my childhood, others are current favorites."

I noticed the lack of female representation with a bit of an under-the-radar smirk, until I spotted, high up on the walls, the collaborative pieces "Desperate Housewives" 1 and 2, each holding a 1950's iconic naïve wife-y silhouette, visible under a hot-mess smattering of stencil patterning and ribbons of freestyle paint, and poised primly above the clouds. The pieces are playful in their definitions of what makes a saint and what makes a perv, and all of the delightful grayscale in between. The title's nod to the TV show also perhaps provides a little commentary on our voyeuristic tendencies, cleverly bringing the saintly audience into the perv group after all.

Shawn Dunwoody, artist and driving force behind countless art facilitation efforts in Rochester, recently scored yet another alternative-space satellite gallery (joining Eye Candy Clothing on East) for his home base, 4Walls Gallery on Elton Street. Dunwoody says he chose a location in the music-and-dance-club-filled St. Paul district because lonely Renaissance Gallery is sitting down there, off the beaten path and detached from the known arts neighborhoods, and he thought there needed to be a more developed art scene in that area. Dunwoody is calling his gallery within VenuResto-Lounge "The St. Paul Project," and its successful first show with new works by graphic designer and indie artist Kurt Ketchum brought in a large and diverse cut of Rochester's population opening night.

Seven large mixed-media pieces in black, white, and pastel hues brighten the cozy-dim lounge holding Ketchum's zen-sentinel abstracted figures. His process is a rather mathematical synthesizing of a multitude of influences, including typography, modern pod-like architecture, graffiti, and native Oceanic tribal art. Of the inspiration for his work, Ketchum says, "I absorb information from various sources. Mostly everyday visuals: nature, debris, architecture, industrial systems...the characters and objects become vehicles. Spirits, in a sense." Though largely abstract, some subjects seem to possess a certain aware presence.

When asked about his work, Ketchum waxes both aesthetic and philosophic, and says he pays obsessive attention to spatial relationships, and the way the natural and manmade worlds are "constructed with certain constant ratios and rhythms that we artists are mimicking intuitively or with varying degrees of careful calculation," he says

"Lately I often just marvel at the way it all just flows together with or without me. Of course, these moments are often fleeting and it is not long before I am trying to carve out a nice portion of that proverbial pie just for me. An endless dance."

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