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Pop surrealism takes notice at C. Emerson Fine Arts show

By LENNIE BENNETT

Times Art Critic

ST. PETERSBURG — Pop surrealism, a fringe movement for years, is going mainstream for good reason. Unlike a lot of contemporary art, it's figurative and narrative, telling stories with recognizable characters much like traditional art. Only its stories and style are new. And often disturbing.

You'll find a good sampling of pop surrealism at C. Emerson Fine Arts, a gallery that consistently shows some of the best art being created in our area and frequently casts a wider net to include artists working in a broader national and international arena.

"Under the Influence 2" has that broader scope with only one out of its 10 artists, Johnny Vitale, a local.

Some of the works have a fairy tale quality without the happy ending. Josh Taylor, Kristen Margiotta and, to some extent, Patrick Fatica appropriate, as do many of their peers working in anime and manga, elements of the kitschy Big Eye art of the 1960s and 1970s.

Taylor and Margiotta especially take exaggeration further. Margiotta's A Rainy Day in Cherry's Land, though painted in candy colors, shows a bedraggled waif perched precariously on a landscaped orb surrounded by gray. Her other paintings are even darker and more Gothic with a Coraline look. Taylor's girls also have enormous eyes and heads on tiny bodies — his heads are square and more cartoony — and their precarious existential grip is more palpable, trapped in a swamp and awaiting attack by a serpent.

Fatica's young women are glammed up in full hair and makeup but they, too, are vulnerable, maybe more so because they are painted with such tenderness. Most show the female in the foreground from the neck up, their backs to a landscape that dissolves toward the horizon line glowing with light from a setting (or rising) sun. Somehow I Thought You'd Save Me, Somewhere in January is a loooong title in this age of graphic novels but serves Fatica's style that hints at romance novel cover art.

Victims abound in this show, and the surprise is there are no heroes or avengers around. Jennifer Lewis' exquisite paintings could be charming illustrations for a children's book. Except that, on closer study, the octopus is surrounded by skulls, a beautiful woman is paired with skeletons while she seems to strangle a small animal, and two cute foxes dressed as nurses are operating on their prey, a bloody bird, its heart encased in a thought bubble.

Political commentary is a big part of the movement and the most overt examples come from Clayton Chandler's quirky drawings and Rocky Grimes' screen prints. Grimes' prints are true originals technically and conceptually. His backgrounds are linings from the envelopes bearing his bills. (Like all of us, he gets a lot of bills.) He cuts, tears and collages them onto archival paper, then prints photographic images onto them. They can be savage in their messages of corporate greed but still really beautiful.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at lennie@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8293.

>> if you go

Under the Influence 2

The exhibition is at C. Emerson Fine Arts, 909 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, through April 4. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday. Open this Saturday to 9 p.m. (727) 898-6068; c-emersonfinearts.com.

Pop surrealism takes notice at C. Emerson Fine Arts show 03/11/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 12, 2009 8:09am]
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