That swimming pool looks inviting. And that garden is impeccable.
But those games of lawn darts?
They may kill you.
“Suburbia: Dream or Nightmare?” — a new group show at Linda Hodges Gallery curated by Dale Cotton — toys with the allure, ennui and angst of the American suburbs, in paintings and photographs that range in mood from the buttoned-down to the downright unhinged.
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Reporting from the Seriously Uptight Front is painter Terry Leness, whose hyper-precise oils on canvas come furnished with nicely biting titles. “Buzz Cut” and “Poodle Trees” both portray suburban ranches whose gardens don’t have a leaf or grass-blade out of place. The scenes depicted are so meticulously neat that you almost feel you might shatter them if you were to walk through them.
At the other extreme are Kate Vrijmoet’s gleefully demented takes on suburban pastimes running amok. “Lawn Dart Accident” and “Snow Blower Accident” are splattery latex-on-canvas works, with the paint practically exploding across their surfaces. In both, workaday Joes rather casually meet their demise while lazing on an air mattress (“Lawn Dart Accident”) or fixing a snowblower (the fact that the guy is out in the cold naked only adds to the wacky flavor of his bloodbath).
The remainder of the show strikes tones somewhere between the ironic finickiness of Leness and gory delirium of Vrijmoet.
Ryan Molenkamp’s black-and-white paintings of suburban “little boxes” stretching to the horizon use a childlike sense of perspective to evoke a cookie-cutter sense of claustrophobia. Tucked into each of them is a low-key anomaly: a mama bear teaching her cub to scavenge through dumpsters (“The Lesson”), an eagle observing the neighborhood (“The Watcher”) and a small grove of tall, spindly trees providing some relief from the repetitious tract housing (“The Refuge”). Each has both a little dream and a little nightmare to it.
Andrea Heimer’s acrylic/pencil works on wood panel push a similar faux-naïf sensibility in a different thematic direction, with scenes of Sweet 16 parties and other innocent activities taking a chaotic or surreal turn. And her lengthy titles do almost as much work as the paint itself. (One example: “They Found the Boy Drinking Mr. Patterson’s Pool Water. The Boy was Covered in Hair and Howled Like a Wolf So We Think He Came Down from the Mountains. We Never Caught Him.”)
On the photography front, Julie Blackmon, Fab Rideti and Stepanka Peterka all make big impressions. Blackmon’s elaborately staged scenes of backyard festivities have a pleasurably anarchic vein running through their relaxed conviviality.
Rideti has fun using trick photography to explore families’ split personalities. “Gluttony,” for instance, on its right-hand side shows mother, father and daughter assembled at an elegantly set table, while on its left, the same trio is hedonistically gorging themselves. By contrast, Peterka’s studies of children focus on their sense of solitude even in the midst of playful, Kodachrome-bright pursuits.
The photorealist paintings of Gabriel Fernandez and Rachel Maxi credibly explore territory similar to Leness’, even if they don’t have quite the same pedantic “snap” to them. Finally, Sally Cleveland’s miniature oils on paper are lovely works, employing a delicate smeary touch to bring sidewalk strips and traffic jams to strangely hypnotic life.
Jenny Beedon Snow, Piper Snow and Sally Ketcham also have work in the show.
Michael Upchurch: email@example.com