Writing Archive

Monsters and Odd Men

Miami Art Exchange, July 31, 2001

An exhibition of Brian Reedy's work, such as the one up now at the Centre Gallery, is like a return trip through your childhood. Not your actual childhood, but the subconscious one that was preoccupied with issues of power and aggression and plied the underside of your bed with monsters.

Reedy's subject is existential dread, rendered in a style derived from medieval woodcuts with a bit of Marvel Comics thrown in. This series has him working with mixed grays as well as his usual woodcut black. The result is fresh and haunting.

In Exploding Dragon Fist, a toy robot with a Chinese dragon head blasts its fists off of the end of its arms. The fists trail rocket-fire as they shoot forward. As is typical of Reedy's work, the piece seems engagingly comic at first glance, but it leaves you wondering if it isn't really about you on one of your less charming days.

Reedy responds to analytical questions about his work with polite dismissals. It would be easy to arrive at an interpretation of what an individual work means, but a literal reading would trivialize the piece and miss the wider associations. Mythological references abound, stunningly obscure ones at that. Nevertheless, Reedy makes his images compelling. He explained Chinvat Bridge to me this way:

Chinvat is an ancient Persian religion that taught that, after death, one had to cross a bridge over the fiery pit of hell to the promised land. This bridge was made out of a sword. For a righteous man, the sword lay flat and was wide enough for ten elephants to cross side by side. For a wicked one, the sword went edge-up.

In Reedy's image, a lemur-like figure with a human face crosses the edge of a sword on four prehensile feet. To tell us what kind of life he lived, an anvil is tied to his back. Despite this, the bastard looks like he's going to make it. One is reminded of people who dish out all kinds of iniquities and then, through cleverness, obtain their reward anyway.

A similar piece is Demiurge. The title refers to a Gnostic god who was made by a Supreme Creator and in turn made our flawed world; this explains why we suffer despite God's omnipotence and perfect love. Reedy's demiurge snarls into the distance showing two rows of human heads for teeth. Holding on with claws, he sits astride the world, which is mushed into an oval under his weight.

(By comparison, I can't help but think of the saccharine pieces by Heather Cushman-Dowdee about Hathor the Egyptian cow goddess at the Dick Beckman and the Fab Five show at 800 Lincoln Road. Given this mythological mode, lapsing into lame literalness is difficult to avoid. Reedy skips around what Cushman-Dowdee steps right into.)

Two books whose contents are displayed on the wall are entitled Fifteen Fears and Fifteen Fates. Iconic images float in the middle of each page: a head sandwiched between two brick walls, another with snakes protruding from each eye socket, one biting the other. What is it all about? It's about us, and the possibility that we may be consigned to a destiny that will offer the sword we will throw ourselves on.

Paired with Reedy's work is a series by Michael Barnes featuring a fat, bald man in a surrealist environment: Picture Tor Johnson left out in the sun too long and dropped off in a Dalí. The images evince considerable drawing skill and craft in lithography, and there are some clever flourishes involving photographs of bugs being transferred to the printing stone. But they lack brio, especially next to the graphic punch of Reedy's work. They're reminiscent of Gerald Scarfe (who did the illustrations for Pink Floyd's album The Wall) and certain artists who have graced the pages of Heavy Metal.

The work of both these artists flirt with the illustrative, but only Barnes's is. It's curious, and I don't have a good explanation for it. There's nothing to do except wonder about the mystery of talent and marvel at the better work.

Zygosis: Michael Barnes and Brian Reedy is on display through September 7 at the Centre Gallery, Miami-Dade Community College Wolfson Campus, Building 1, Third Floor, 300 NE 2nd Avenue, Miami. Call 305-237-3278 for more information.

Word count: 717

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