Franklin Einspruch

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Horrible Prettiness: John Pylypchuk brings his paradoxical perspectives to Locust Projects

Street Miami, April 9, 2004

Winnipeg, the city in Manitoba, is a Native American word meaning "mud water." A hotbed of artistic eccentricity, Winnipeg is the home of the Royal Art Lodge, an art collective facetiously named in the manner of the hunting and fishing lodges that are ubiquitous in Canada. Particular themes run through the members' work: mutants, anthropomorphic animals, subverted innocence, and a naive aesthetic that conveys both cuteness and fear.

Those themes are still in evidence in the creations of former member Jon Pylypchuk, who now lives in Los Angeles and has created two new pieces for Locust Projects. The sculptural installations serve up more fear than cuteness, but their intersection of oddity and handicraft makes for interesting art. Demented, but interesting.

In one untitled piece in the main gallery, a figure that looks like a stuffed cat doll - on crack - stands on a staircase in front of the entry door of an eight-foot-long airplane. A momma and baby cat, with only sparse clumps of fur, stand upright on the ground below, watching. Poppa cat extends a middle claw from each paw in a rude gesture of farewell.

The figures look as though the artist assembled them from old plush toys, taxidermy specimens, and fouled epoxy. Hilarious and horrible at the same time, they evoke a wincing smile but tug on the heart.

Another threadbare cat stands in the side gallery expectorating a long cord of translucent glue and bric-a-brac, which is tended by a short, fur-coated penguin. It's disgusting, but not merely disgusting; Pylypchuk has styled the expressions on the figures to haunt and provoke sympathy. What comes off at first as low-art ickiness is actually a sophisticated meditation on illness and the discomfort of caretaking. The artist has created a world of neurotic malaise that would be terrible to live in, but it's a lot of fun to visit.

The nearby Dorsch Gallery has been staging several events and rapidly changing shows in March and April. The current exhibition features the work of Steve Peters, Maria Jose Arjona, and Kyle Towbridge for two weeks only, closing Saturday, April 10.

Peters is a Seattle native who did a residency at The Land, a site dedicated to the exploration of low-impact earth art. Peters put contact microphones on cacti, branches, and ant mounds, and recorded the sounds of their movements. He also recorded the ambient sounds on the site: birds singing, planes flying overhead. His installation, entitled "HERE-ING" (which was part of the Subtropics Music Festival) consists of a dozen speakers hung at head level playing the contact recordings, and a few more on the ceiling playing the ambient ones. Even though the recordings are authentic, the installation is a fiction that inspires a receptive state. As the listener moves around the room, the sounds recombine to convey new moods.

Arjona's studies for an upcoming performance piece aren't her most compelling work, but the performance should be intriguing: the drawings picture armless women with giant lips where their heads should be, wearing skirts made of birds, lilting this way and that.

Towbridge has hit a confident stride with new pieces that float a couple of inches in front of the wall, which he has painted with dramatic slashes of black. He Wore Gloves to Hide the Holes in His Hands pictures Jesus in a t-shirt, His gloved hands lifted as if to say, Dude, what do you want from Me? Devotional candles flicker on a three-tiered shelf below. The coloring-book drawing style and light attitude makes this a thoughtful antidote to a recent blood-soaked portrayal of the same figure currently in theaters everywhere.

Word count: 603

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