The Comic Uncanny
October 23, 2007 - December 14, 2007

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The Comic Uncanny

The Comic Uncanny


May 22nd – July 27th, 2007


SHAHEEN is delighted to announce The Comic Uncanny, a group exhibition that will include paintings and works on paper by Marcel Dzama, Matthew Fisher, David Godbold, John Jodzio, Scooter Laforge, Christopher Moss, Raymond Pettibon, David Shrigley, Ryan Steadman, and H.C. Westermann.   The exhibition has been organized by New York based curator and art historian Stephanie Theodore.


“The Comic Uncanny” curator Stephanie Theodore has commented on the exhibition as follows:


Questions of identity and self-definition have been an important part of contemporary art for decades.  Artists examine themselves and their place in society and art history with the utmost gravity.  While the artists in The Comic Uncanny reflect upon the world around them and their interactions therewith, they all employ, by one means or another, a methodological approach to art making that deflates, detournes and lampoons the expected experience of a work of art.  Using the self as a starting point, the work in this exhibition makes the artist the butt of its own joke, sometimes overtly, sometimes covertly, often pushing acceptable limits of taste and accepted ideas of what art is supposed to be.  Crude materiality, odd subject matter, and a healthy disrespect for propriety have a jarring effect, and the uncanny response to inappropriate humor -- a slightly embarrassed laugh, a suppressed giggle, a quick guffaw is the slightly naughty pleasure of the work in this exhibition.


The Comic Uncanny / Art Papers

The Comic Uncanny



Douglas Max Utter

Art Papers

March / April 2008


Much art is funny, thought rarely LOL.  Sometimes it even laughs at itself.  But when does it begin to lose its innocence irremediably -- to rot a little, lurching into the crusty, punch-packed, uncanny realm of repression?


For her exhibition The Comic Uncanny, New York-based curator and galleriest Stephanie Theodore selected works by ten artists who, while by no means a bunch of comedians, are often funny in both senses of the term, confronting issues of rejection and exclusion in moderately transgressive works that flirt with personal and cultural boundaries [Shaheen Modern and Contemporary Art; October 23 - December 14, 2007].  An international set, they also cover a lot of ground and several eras, starting with three passionately peculiar lithographs by the late H. C. Westermann.  Much of that artist's work deals with his horrific experiences as a sailor aboard the USS Enterprise during WWII.  His 1967 alien landscape Red Planet "J" is a fantasy of aggression, with hairy monsters draped over Kremlin-shaped mountains and round, riveted aircraft speeding in threatening trajectories.  Perched more securely at the edge of sanity, former Black Flag drummer Raymond Pettibon's three ink drawings are classic punk commentary.  His 1990 black-and-white cartoon "Look teacher..." depicts a defiant young artist with a rockabilly 'do and a loaded rubber band, surrounded by belligerent text" "POST WHATEVER... POST WHATEVER YOU GOT" and "GO DOCUMENT YOURSELF!"


The Comic Uncanny disdains distinction between the obsessions of fine art and the finesse of obsessed art.  This is especially true of Jersey City resident John Jodzio, whose acrylic, Sharpie and collage fantasy cityscapes mix the narrative ambition of Henry Darger with a finely honed pop art design sense.  Jodzio presents scenes of stylized conflict between a cat-headed gang in black jumpsuits and various rival groups.  Their battleground is a dense pastiche of vintage advertising and decorative clichés. In Jersey Kamikaze, 2007, low-flying aircraft zoon overhead in tight formation while a simpering hot dog in a tutu bats its eyelashes in the middle distance.


Despite an air of what psychoanalyst and critical theorist Julia Kristeva might term "abjection," the show is actually quite well behaved.  For instance, only two works deal with urination, and one of them, Pettibon's bathroom sketch of Gumby poised above a toilet, hardly counts -- the whole eleventh season of South Park is far more uncanny.  Then there's Ryan Steadman's Drain, 2007, an oil and enamel on panel depicting a man in a thickly painted green hoodie.  A lavish pool of cadmium yellow puddles in front of him, running backward between his legs across an all-over field of bright orange bricks.  It disappears down a neatly rendered grey drain.  Though not comic, the image echoes strangely in the gaps between experience and observation.  In a related vein, Christopher Moss' Sock Puppet studies, 2007, are penile -- what sock puppet isn't? -- and imbued with slightly demented personality as they revisit a childhood finger-painting aesthetic.


Far more self-possessed though not necessarily grown-up are the archetypes, actors and mutants who engage in miniature mystery plays on Canadian artist Marcel Dzama's paper stage.  One root beer and ink drawing features a satanic, Humpty Dumpty-headed figure clad in a smock, restraining a small, even scarier version of himself on leash.  He appears to be making an indecent proposal to a young Hardy Boy-type in a jester's cap, sitting with a jazz-era girlfriend.  Just as recondite in their own way are Matthew Fisher's acrylic on linen renditions of early-nineteenth-century soldiers, toy-like in gold braid and tall brimmed hats as they enact a symbolic order all their own.  Also edging well into the weird, Glasgow-based David Shrigley's very outsider-like ink line drawings explore identitary incongruities.  No, 2005, a sort of concrete poem, consists of the titular word and list of body parts, and concludes with a firm "no thank you."


Jodzio's manic vision of contemporary urban life is rivaled by Brooklyn artist Scooter LaForge, whose jam-packed acrylic on canvas America, 2007, presents incidents both painterly and narrative.  Influences as diverse as Red Grooms and Dana Schutz crisscross a cartoon-ish landscape where a two-headed blue bear stands upright on a boulder, brandishing an American flag.  In the foreground, a diapered ape lies among poppies and daisies, his chest blossoming with cardiac-monitoring paraphernalia.


So maybe it's comic or uncanny.  The clearest example of comedy in the show, LaForge's farcical work seems unimpressed by both proscribed and prescribed things, yet full of the jouissance of painting.  Similarly, the tone of Dublin artist David Godbold's work is primarily satirical, here presenting ink sketches of Baroque era paintings with sassy typescript captions.  Under one lavish apotheosis, Godbold sums it all up: "Optimistic self-definition is really big in the art world."


» PDF version

David Godbold
A car crash moment, 2006
Ink on tracing paper over found paper
8 1/4" x 11 5/8"

Matthew Fisher
Staring at the Sun, 2007
Acrylic on linen
13" x 7"

Matthew Fisher
The African Crown, 2007
Acrylic on linen
9" x 7 1/4"

H.C. Westermann
An Affair in the Islands, 1972
Nine color lithograph, framed
25" x 33"
Edition of 60

H.C. Westermann
Drawing of Man Underwater, Sea of Cortez, 1974
Ink and watercolor on paper, framed
11" x 15"

Scooter LaForge
Clown Bear, 2007
Acrylic on canvas
34" x 38"

Scooter LaForge
America, 2007
Acrylic on canvas
32" x 32"

David Godbold
No sounds, 2007
Ink on tracing paper over found paper
16 1/16" x 11 3/8"

David Godbold
Free leg wax with every haircut (Mondays only), 2006
Ink and computer print out on tracing paper, laid over found notice
11" x 8 1/4"

David Shrigley
Untitled, 2005
Ink on paper
Each sheet measures 7" x