(Published in OC WEEKLY… Oh, let’s say 1998 or so.)
Circuses scare the heck out of me, they scare the heck out of you, and they scare the heck out of everybody else. Let’s all just admit that right now. Hapless drifters being fired out of cannons, men with greased mustaches snapping whips at surly beasts, guys with missing (or extra) fingers trying to sell you bags of greasy, overpriced popcorn. And the clowns! Lord, don’t even get me started on the damned clowns. Those floppy shoes, the greasepaint dripping down their necks and staining their hideous clownsuits, the mirthless cackling. Oh, the horror, the horror.
Roy Hassett’s art achieves the seemingly impossible; he takes the world of circus and carny folk and somehow makes it seem three times as skuzzy and nightmarish as it already is. A typical Hassett composition features a sneering, troll-like little girl-creature riding a swing that hangs from the gaping, toothless maw of a wild-eyed elephant. The colors are psychedelic in their intensity, and the linework squiggles across the page like thousands of little neon worms. The clowns and other carny folk in Hassett’s art reek of failure and perversion and shame; you get the feeling that they’ve run away with the circus because they had nowhere else to go. If you took way too much acid and stayed up all night reading Something Wicked This Way Comes, the resulting hallucinations would play like a particularly chipper Disney cartoon compared to the freaky world to be glimpsed through the window of Hassett’s work.
Drawn with those eyeball-blistering, citric colors that only magic markers can provide, Hassett’s work has the weird, crude vitality of the best outsider art. But this outsider is actually an insider; in real life, the weirdest thing about Hasett is how very unweird he apparently is. Yes, Hasett does work for the circus (at least in a sense), but no, despite what his drawings would lead you to imagine, he’s not the salty, half-mad old cuss who sweeps up after the animal acts. As half of the Hasett and Davis Co., Hasett is a marketing whiz who books games and rides for fairs and carnivals all over the land. In a wacky little twist of fate, one of Hasset’s recent gigs was Long Beach’s Fourth Street Fair, which took place a few weeks back and mere yards away from Artscape, the delightfully funky little gallery-boutique where Hasett’s art is currently on display. Step through Artscape (be sure to check out Rick Frausto’s fantastic little monster-robot sculptures, recently raved about in these pages by our own Rebecca Shoenkopf) to the little room-within-a-room at the back of the gallery; journey within, and you’ll be surrounded on all sides by Hasett’s work, an experience I suggest you prepare yourself for with a strong meal and perhaps a shot of liquid courage. Hasett has somehow taken the colorful, corrupt spirit of every circus everywhere and penned it up in one little room, and those four walls are putting out some NASTY energy.
There’s plenty of nastiness to be found just a few doors down from Artscape at The Metamorphosis show at the cavernous Long Beach studio gallery recently re-christened The Space (it was previously known as the ARK Gallery), along with lots of charm, some real stunners, and a dab of the usual art-school bullshit. As soon as you enter, your eye is caught by two works zig-zagging across the floor like big origami snakes; Carol Powell’s Girls in T-Shirts & Underwear and Girls with Teddy Bears feature depictions of preadolescent girlie hijinx drawn in a moody, noodly style with what appears to be a bic pen. It’s more subtly disturbing, and more poignant, than Hasett’s work, calling to mind some of the best prisoner art. By comparison David Knight’s two paintings, Jump and Dream, are more technically accomplished yet infinitely less interesting; Jump depicts a chair engaged in an Evel Knevel-style daredevil act, jumping through a flaming hoop and emerging with its upholstery unsinged, while Dream shows a chair in the midst of a Henri Rousseau-like mirage. Knight’s obviously grasping for surrealism here, but unfortunately these paintings do not so much evoke the dream-state as they simply make you drowsy.
Your senses are jolted back to wakefulness by Jim McCamant’s Self Portrait, a solid gold turd mounted on a wall plaque (I still haven’t figured out if this guy has zero self-esteem or if he really needs to get over himself), while Vladi Komanska’s two works, the pleasantly hideous collage Lovely and the wacky-ass acrylic painting There is a Frog in Everyone, leave you feeling concussed and whoozy, in a good way. Unfortunately somebody has to tell Komanska that the little Black Flys and Parental Advisory stickers he adorns his work with aren’t quite the clever touch he apparently believes them to be. His art isn’t tied to a specific era, yet those stickers ensure that it’ll seem dated by the century’s end, if it’s not already. It might not be too late to save these paintings; I’d strongly reccommend that Komanska gets busy with a razor blade, some sand paper, and a little turpentine… whatever it takes to get those damn stickers off of there. Greg Lama’s Flying Lama is an odd bird, literally; a creature of the air cobbled together out of feathers, little leafy bits from artificial plants, and the remains of a Klingon spaceship model. Can’t say I get his point, but I applaud his ingenuity in devising such a thing. Misha Mar Heo’s Archetypal Barbie, on the other hand, strikes me as being both haphazardly crafted and groaningly obvious. It’s Barbie… and she’s knocked-up! For decades Barbie has endured the barbs of feminists, wise-guys, and snooty cultural critics, and it’s hardly affected her at all; she’s simply gone about her merry way in her fantastic plastic world, working hundreds of careers simultaneously (everything from tending the counter at Mcdonalds to being an astronaut, and this was years before Sally Ride) and yet still finding plenty of time to frolic with all of her little plastic pals. Jeez, no wonder so many little girls grow up to hate her so. Artists can (and do, endlessly) put Barbie in bondage gear, cut off all her hair or smear her with menstrual blood, but they’ll never succeed in wiping that little smirk off her face. If Heo thinks she’s gonna take Barbie down a peg by sticking a bun in the old girl’s oven, she’s got another think coming.
While Heo’s Barbie is about as shocking as buttered wheat toast, the same could hardly be said for Antonio Tomaselli Montalva’s She Waited Screaming, a small treasure hidden in The Space’s east end. Montalva’s sculpture depicts a fearsome, sphinx-like female creature with big cat haunches and wiggly wire claws. She’s not much larger than Heo’s Barbie, which you’re thankful for. This girl eats fellas like you for breakfast and then gobbles up real tough guys for lunch. She’s the scariest little wonder in the dark carnival that’s currently camped on Fourth Street. Step right up!