IN THE VISITOR'S book at Raw Gallery, a dissident viewer has written an acerbic critique of Al Perry's Pop Art & Consumerism Show.
"Pop?" the comment reads. "Warhol would disagree."
Well, it's hard to imagine Andy Warhol, that happy recycler of any and every image of American consumer culture, banning any subject an artist might choose. Warhol and the other pop artists of the '60s stepped into the fetid sea of commercial imagery and defiantly turned its infinite soup cans and celebrities into a new art ism. They rescued lowly objects from the television set and the trash can and endowed them with iconic prominence in the gallery, Warhol's tomato soups and Marilyn Monroes joining Roy Lichtenstein's comic book figures painted large.
Likewise, the artists in the Raw show have dipped into that sea of images we swim through every day almost without noticing: Jolly Green Giants pitching peas on television, roadside golden arches signaling the presence of expensive, yet inedible, hamburgers, stars and princesses grinning in the glossies of the doctor's waiting room. Mike Miskowski brings it all together in one painting, "Patio Scene." This acrylic on canvas is a savage attack on sprawling suburbia, that consumer of automobiles, household goods and the land itself. Monster Mom and Dad barbecue in the backyard, next to a house bursting with fridge, washer and dryer. Grid-locked cars jam the cul-de-sac, while on the stripped and desolate desert the golden arches blink alluringly.
Painter Catherine Eyde goes right to the point, too. Her "TV Landscape," a watermedia on canvas, is a parable of being and nothingness, picturing a world that exists only on television. A Western landscape of horizon, mountains and sky is seen through the screens of the 11 painted televisions stacked one atop the other. Beyond them is only blackness, the oblivion of a life without television.
Curated by local rocker Al Perry, Perry's Pop Art is Catholic in its materials as well. It embraces painted collages composed of snipped magazine ad texts (Lori Lieber's nicely named "That's Shoppertainment"), neon-bright paintings of Aunt Jemima and the Pillsbury Doughboy by Kathleen Pearson, black-and-white photos by Michael Hyatt of a billboard and a discarded pin-up girl. One artist, Robert Thomas, indulges in the reviled materials of popular, as opposed to pop, art. He's blended two of the more execrable of mall-art figures, painting a terrifying Clown Jesus on black velvet.
Curator Perry, better known for his forays onto local stages, explains in a statement that his upbringing in Phoenix perfectly suited him to the task of selecting pop art. "It was simply too hot to do anything other than watch TV and/or drive in an air-conditioned car to the nearest enclosed, self-contained regional shopping center. Consequently, I was molded into being a good little consumer early on..."
He adds that his show is "totally not serious," and he's right that much of the art is slapdash. Many of these works are bad-on-purpose, paintings made cartoonish so as to heap contempt on the surreal world of commercialism and its poor-quality, mass-produced merchandise. But there's an irony here. With the possible exception of Olivier Mosset's sleek shaped paintings, "Blue Cross" and "White Cross," these artworks don't begin to match the slickness of the imagery of contemporary advertising. And maybe that's what the disgruntled viewer who invoked Warhol was talking about.
For all his slippery shallowness, Warhol's works were every bit as smooth and disciplined as, say, a well-crafted car commercial; Lichtenstein's dotted romance gals were as carefully plotted as the costly script for the latest clever computer ad. By contrast, Perry's hip-hop, homely collection is like a folk-art reflection on commercialism, a kitchen-table counterattack on craft and guile.
AROUND THE CORNER in Dinnerware's four-person show, Monique Mynlieff fits right in with the Perry sensibility. She uses low-ranking art materials for her childlike mixed-media drawings, gluing in glossy magazine pictures onto sheets of white paper, and jauntily sketching cows and boats and submerged people in pencil and oil stick, splashed with gouache. Big pieces of black corrugated cardboard serve as makeshift frames for the unmatted work, whose fragmentary nature suggests the disjointedness of dreams and memory. The same aesthetic carries through to her paintings, the best of which, "Devil's Bed," is a hot red and yellow acrylic on wood, of a devil dallying with a damsel. Nadia Hlibka does nicely layered investigations of cultural history, alternating calligraphic text with found pictures of the monuments of Western civilization, painted over in pinks and purples and golds. And Denise Kramer fractures the desert landscape in gum-bichromate printed photographs that re-organize organic nature into artificially colored geometric grids.
In the midst of all this media mixing, it comes as a shock -- and a pleasure -- to find Gwyneth Scally's honest-to-goodness paintings, big serious oils on masonite. Scally's territory is the psyche, and she paints large human figures against curiously empty backgrounds. Some of them are part animal, rabbit or giraffe, and they've got odd little accessories -- a milk jug, oranges, a scuba mask -- that make them even more surreal. Painted in a moody palette of subdued yellow, green and gray, these people are motionless, captured in a moment of time that seems to stretch into infinity. Their quiet meditation is worlds away from the clamor of the marketplace and the saucy satire of pop art.
A member exhibition featuring Nadia Hlibka, Denise Kramer, Monique Mynlieff and Gwyneth Scally continues through Saturday, November 20, at Dinnerware Contemporary Art Gallery, 135 E. Congress St. Gallery hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 7 to 9 p.m. every Saturday night. For more information call 792-4503.