Seattle-area artist Tyson Grumm creates surreal narratives (whale-hunting ostriches, for instance) in acrylic and mixed media in "Bespokelore," at Patricia Rovzar Gallery through May 31.

Share story

Richly textured and obsessively detailed, Tyson Grumm’s paintings are surreal narratives involving whale-hunting ostriches, a tornado-threatened dodo and other unlikely phenomena. He seems — going by the labels affixed to his paintings in “Bespokelore,” his new show at Patricia Rovzar Gallery — to have no interest in giving information on the technique involved in concocting his curious visual world.

Instead, he prefers to focus viewers’ attention solely on the bizarre action depicted.

In “Bespokelore: Owen and William Serpintain,” for instance, he provides a mini essay on what the painting’s two young men in bird-beak masks are up to with that kite-equipped ostrich they’re flanking.

“Originally invented for human levitation by the Serpintain Brothers,” he writes, “the ‘Osti-glider’ was converted to an ostrich transporter when the brothers were unable to get a qualified human pilot. In its short existence (only one unit was ever made), the ‘Osti-glider’ was able to transport a full-sized ostrich more than 600 ft. from an old-growth stump, to a mint field with a maximum speed of 16 mph. To this day, no other ostrich transport machine has ever been able to repeat such success.”

We’re in Glen Baxter territory, here, but with a far more elaborate artistic technique in play.

Grumm, who lives in Issaquah, works with acrylic paints and mixed media, and is especially fond of incorporating maps and other found materials in his work. Grumm aims for “a stuccoed kind of texture” in his work, he says, building up his imagery or sanding away at it as the urge seizes him.

There’s a Dürer intensity to the way he details the creatures at the center of his stories, whether it’s a goat, a whale, an elephant or an elk. There’s also a pictorial verve to the overall composition that’s akin to the finest poster art or high-end children’s-book illustration.

And then there are his outlandish story lines. “Pointing the Finger,” featuring several rabbits with pipes in their mouths, tells of the spread and subsequent successful eradication of a “domestic bunny smoking” fad. “The Renaissance Hoarder” delights in anachronisms as it depicts a 17th-century damsel hauling a cart heaped with mattresses, a green refrigerator, a pink bathtub, a pelican, a giraffe and other odds and ends. The painting purports to depict one of the earliest known instances of hoarding behavior, while its cartographic component, oddly, seems to be an aviator’s map of the Arabian Peninsula that includes messages like: “WARNING: Flying over Egypt and its TERRITORIAL WATERS without prior approval is PROHIBITED.”

Grumm could use a copy editor on some of his captions (it’s “pachyderm,” not “pachaderm”). But the double pleasure he offers with his visuals — both the bizarre imagery and the spackled-plaster surfaces of the paintings that seem to contain subliminal geographies of their own — makes his spelling lapses forgivable.

Michael Upchurch: