A segment of the lowbrow-art movement, led by once-underground names like Mark Ryden and Tara McPherson, seeks to disquiet by combining innocence and villainy. In Art Is Violent, at Revision Space, Courtney Cormier and Miss Dingo follow that lead.
Cormier, a self-taught painter from Greensboro, N.C., sets her sights on the objects of childhood recreation, reinventing toys as tools of mayhem and instruments of warfare, occasionally pitting plaything against plaything to cast the toys as victims, too. She sidesteps the now-traditional atmospheric cast of quirky darkness and eerie spookifying, avoiding shadows and gloom as moodsetters. Instead, she utilizes rich color and vibrant clarity, allowing the danger to speak for itself.
A piñata bludgeoned by a Louisville Slugger bursts to release not candy but shrapnel; a suicide bomber's vest replaces plastic explosives with Play-Doh; a musical chimp awaits his solo clutching saw blades instead of cymbals. Cormier's choice to swap out the PTA-approved without even a wink of complicity elevates her works steps above what the standard dosage of self-aware creepiness would permit.
The toys that locally based Miss Dingo fiddles with in her paintings, meanwhile, are true to their manufactured form. Plastic and flat-hued, olive soldiers ready rifles, and pink babies crawl naked on all fours; festive, multicolored animals dangle from vibrant yarn. Elsewhere, children play and point and look beyond our view. There's nothing particularly foreboding in the images themselves. But an edge is present, and not just metaphorically: Miss Dingo paints not on canvas, but on cleavers.
The blades themselves are identical in size and shape, and while the handles vary a bit from knife to knife, the overall uniformity lends a tinge of mass-assembly. Some of the images are keenly unsettling in their own right, particularly those of costumed children kitted out for Halloween: They are costumed not in the homogenized store-bought regalia of the present, but in the cobbled-together, often viscerally disturbing gear we've seen in Depression-era photographs. But even when the pictures are gentle, we can't escape the threat of the steel.
Frequent gallery-goers are accustomed to the union of innocence and the sinister: Teddy bears whose fuzzy paws hoist Kalashnikovs no longer surprise us. But by eschewing shock value, the works allows us to go beneath the surface — and Art Is Violent provides ample depth.