not much doubt that the art world is a lot more porous than it used to
be, open to all kinds of visual and not-so-visual activity previously
considered beyond its borders. But you really feel the wind blow through
the cracks at "Stranger Town," a fiercely energetic exhibition of
drawings, paintings, video, books, CD's, T-shirts and sculpture by eight
artists at Dinter Fine Art, a new gallery in Chelsea.
The show has been organized by the young artist Taylor McKimens, who
selected artists he felt should be better known in the art world than
they were. Most of them already have thriving careers elsewhere - in
fertile subcultures and commercial disciplines like Japanese manga,
illustration and animation and skateboarding. The best-known figure,
Daniel Johnston, is a longtime cult figure on the indie-music scene who
achieved instant fame in that sphere when Kurt Cobain, an admirer, was
photographed at the MTV Awards wearing one of his T-shirts.
One common thread here seems to be Mr. McKimens's ecumenical
interests. His selections include one of his former teachers at the Art
Center in Pasadena, Calif.; music faves; and discoveries made on a
recent trip to Japan with his girlfriend, the artist Misaki Kawai. But
the larger continuity is drawing, used to create teeming surfaces and
large casts of characters - even entire worlds - or to range at will
across a universe of styles.
The show offers further evidence of what seems to be true nearly
everywhere else: drawing, even more than photography, is the universal
language of the moment, because it is at once the most low-tech of art
forms and yet completely adaptable to all other techs, from books and
comics to digital animation. As it tours art's many overlapping fields,
this show ricochets among works done for pleasure, for business, or
both. Not all of it is great or original, but all of it, like Alice's
rabbit hole, leads to something else that is.
One of the show's high points is the stunning wall devoted to
drawings in charcoal, ink or pencil by the Japanese artist Tomoo Gokita.
This polymath draftsman is best known for his thick, newsprint books,
one of which, to give the art world a little credit, Mr. McKimens
discovered in the bookstore of the New Museum of Contemporary Art. Mr.
Gokita's vocabulary barrels across illustration, pornography,
abstraction, children's drawing, calligraphy and sign-painting, with a
perfect control, velvety surfaces and tonal range that makes
black-and-white feel like living color.
Offering Mr. Gokita stiff competition for best in show is the work of
Saiman Chow, who is renowned in the field of motion graphics animation.
(A commercial for the N.F.L. is included.) Invited by Nike (along with
14 other designers and animators) to make a work for its "Art of Speed"
DVD, Mr. Chow came up with "Oggo," a breathtaking video that goes inside
the body of a runner to expose the high-speed shenanigans of the oggos,
marshmallowlike adrenalin cells. On constantly mutating vehicles, the
oggos race through a pearlescent landscape of running shoes in a
slapstick narrative that evokes Japanese lacquer and Walt Disney while
operating somewhere between "Mad Max" and Peter Max. Also included here
are Mr. Chow's undulating collages, grafted together from magazine
images of bodies (mostly female) and supplemented with paint and pencil.
They would be at home in an emerging-artists group show.
The show includes two well-known exemplars of manga whose work is
ubiquitous in Japan, as Mr. McKimens discovered on his recent trip. Both
offer ample evidence that manga, like the underground comics in this
country, often revels in society's darker, kinkier side. The cartoons of
Mimiyo Tomozawa, who has designed album covers for American musicians
like Jim O'Rourke, depict a world of chubby, not-so-innocent children,
although they seem more benign in a vividly optical short animation,
also on view. Yusaku Hanakuma details the adventures of the wildly
popular characters Afro and Hage (meaning Bald Head), but also makes
paintings and designs T-shirts. In one of his cartoons here, Hage goes
fishing and discovers a dead, footless body on a pier; he remarks upon
his luck, since he forgot to bring bait. Mr. Hanakuma is one of those
artists whose cryptic, uninflected drawing style enables him to get away
with a form of graphic murder.
The artistic team known as the Clayton Brothers (Rob, with whom Mr.
McKimens studied, and Christian) are well-established illustrators who
are turning increasingly to art. Their collaborative
assemblage-installation, "Gold Friends League, Grooming Station No. 1,"
is part wall, part furniture and densely covered with drawn and painted
faces that often merge humans and dogs, found objects and words of
advice: "Reminder. Always Keep Your Training Voice On." The style is a
little overheated as well as familiar, a blend of Barry McGee, Christian
Schumann and Dieter Roth. The best parts are milk cartons tattooed with
delicate pencil drawings and displayed on individual outcroppings.
Jason Holley, another professional illustrator and also a musician,
cuts up his commercial work to make deft little biomorphic sculptures
that merge grommeted-together construction paper with cactuslike
aggregates of Sculpey. (They share their small scale, intense color and
exquisiteness with the ceramic art of Kathy Butterly.) Similar
contraptions populate the artist's delicate watercolors. But Mr.
Holley's work may serve best as an introduction to the music of his
three-man band, Ukefink. (That's ratfink, with a ukulele.) Using all
manner of instruments, some of which sound quite cobbled together
themselves, this chameleonlike trio moves effortlessly from Captain
Beefheart to the Carter Family to Lou Reed.
Filling a small, makeshift corner behind Mr. Holley's display is the
work of Rich Jacobs, an artist and independent curator who is especially
popular in the skateboard world. Mr. Jacobs, who is organizing a group
show that will open at the Clementine Gallery in Chelsea on March 17,
favors found materials, including wallpaper, box tops and shopping bags,
and employs abstract and representational modes with equal fervor.
Basically he parlays both approaches into pulsing all-over patterns.
Some may consist of goofily slack-jawed faces that recall Daumier; in
others, looping thatches of abstract lines create a fizzy, molecular
It's easy to overlook the small, colorful, expressionistic drawings
of the singer, songwriter and piano wizard Daniel Johnston, a pillar of
the indie music scene despite a long history of mental illness. Mr.
Johnston, whose music is as personal, constant and rough-edged as
Ukefink's is polished and changeable (in a good way), has made art since
he was a child. He is the subject of a documentary, "The Devil and
Daniel Johnston," directed by Jeff Feuerzeig, that was shown at Sundance
On first sight these cartoonish works seem rather generic, something
that only a devoted fan could appreciate. But in them Mr. Johnston
translates his quavering, confessional music into wobbly figures that
hint at El Greco, reflect his unfailingly intimate combination of sexual
longing and childlike naïveté and his indelible way with language. "Get
Real Someday" one drawing advises. In another a woman asks a man: "Do
you want me to tell you how to eat your hamburger? I'll be your love
slave." The exhibition also includes a sampling of Mr. Johnston's
T-shirts, whose images and words offer further evidence of the mutating
creativity that courses through this show.
The show is at Dinter Fine Art, 547 West 27th Street, Chelsea,
through March 26.