Roger Shimomura melts pop into pathos — including a painting of George Takei in an internment camp — while William Kentridge’s bold designs slather birds and trees across dictionary pages at Greg Kucera Gallery.
Two strong shows at Greg Kucera Gallery offer a bracing contrast between eye-popping color and vigorous black and white.
Seattle-born Roger Shimomura continues his lacerating satire using pop-culture motifs in “Great American Muse,” a series of 24-by-24-inch acrylics on canvas that play with cartoon-bright, comic-strip aesthetics. The paintings are packed with sensual/sexual innuendo, scathing critiques of racial stereotypes and allusions to art history (Hokusai, Warhol, Picasso), as well as popular entertainment (Disney characters, “Star Trek,” Japanese animé). Instead of titles, the paintings are identified by numbers.
In “Great American Muse #27,” a Japanese geisha comes face-to-face with Minnie Mouse as a painting of a gun barrel behind them — a replica of Roy Lichtenstein’s iconic “Pistol” — points directly at the viewer. The expressions on their faces pit the winsome (Minnie) against the leery (the geisha), while the gun behind them makes it unclear whether they’re engaged in a negotiation or a showdown.
Roger Shimomura’s ‘Great American Muse’ and William Kentridge’s ‘Universal Archive: Recent Collaged Linocuts’
10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays through Dec. 24, Greg Kucera Gallery, 212 Third Ave. S., Seattle (206-624-0770 or gregkucera.com).
Similar ambiguities and incongruities are at play throughout the show, with some paintings crazily crowded with action and others daringly spare.
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“#45” is especially efficient in using minimal imagery to maximal effect. In its foreground, a young Asian woman is in a state of partial undress, while behind her two gigantic, disembodied, glossy red lips, hanging in a white void, smoke a clearly post-coital cigarette. Nothing is spelled out, but the painting is practically saturated in erotic allusion and possibility.
Shimomura’s compositions can take quite experimental turns. “#7” shows a jeans-clad male (visible, oddly, only from his lower back to his upper shins) facing away from the viewer toward two lurid cartoon lovers who are wildly out of scale with each other.
What does it mean?
“There is no correct nor best interpretation of each painting,” Shimomura writes, “but I invite each viewer to express and share their own interpretations.”
Several paintings, nevertheless, do make their satirical intentions clear. The most pointed is “#49,” which shows George Takei of “Star Trek” fame in his “Captain Sulu” drag, peering from the window of an internment-camp hut while the Starship Enterprise flies free, high above the camp’s barbed-wire fences. (Takei, like Shimomura, was held as a young boy with his family in an internment camp during World War II.)
South African artist William Kentridge’s “Universal Archive” series — showing in Kucera’s back gallery — boasts equally powerful graphic design. The “canvases” for his linocuts are, in most instances, pages from the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, and their columns of word definitions provide an orderly backdrop to the brash, inky lines of his main images: the spreading crowns of trees in silhouette, sinister birds perched on black branches and the occasional human or humanlike figure.
“Universal Archive: Ref. 22” is particularly arresting. It shows a human-avian hybrid striding across two dictionary pages. Its outlines are both rough and vivid: an animated tricksterlike creature making an eerie impression against a catalog of neatly arranged verbiage.
In a much larger piece called “If You Have No Eye,” snippets of text are part of a more complex picture. Cryptic headlines — “A NICELY BUILT CITY NEVER RESISTS DESTRUCTION,” “IF YOU HAVE NO EYE THEN USE YOUR HEART” — parallel the branches, creating a word-laden tree filled with dozens of contradictory signals and messages. From a distance, the tree image is perfectly cohesive. But step closer and you’ll find yourself pulled into its babel.
That dovetailing of the chaotic with the meticulous makes for a heady experience.