Bulgy-eyed masks meet wormlike Schmos in Natural Kachina

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Natural Kachina

At the LES Gallery until April 17

Natural Kachina is equal parts funny, funky, and fantastical. Still, as LES Gallery director Lisa Giroday has written in the short statement for this small exhibition, a certain seriousness of purpose underlies the art.

On view are drawings by Jeff Ladouceur and Frank Magnotta, sculptures by Shayne Ehman, and paintings by Andre Ethier.

Ehman is an elusive entity, having spent a considerable amount of time in the woods and off the grid. His art is equally hard to pin down; it’s deceptively cartoonish in execution and distractingly oblique in content. Currently living on Cortes Island, Ehman is represented by two eensy-weensy ceramic masks and a 16-inch-high, wall-mounted cedar sculpture, The Great Divide. The latter is, again, a cartoonish head, with a vertical splurt of hair, bulging eyes, a knot-like nose, protruding teeth, and three chins. Despite its odd appearance and naive execution, it seems to bear an almost mystical intent, suggesting the transcendental or transformational power of nature.

Toronto-based musician and artist Andre Ethier has evolved a low-brow style of representational painting that looks like the love child of Robert Crumb and Lisa Yuskavage, the American painter famed for her chocolate-box images of hypersexualized women. (Ethier’s style is like early Crumb mated with desexualized Yuskavage.) Using highly saturated colours in unexpected combinations, he paints little pictures of imaginary beings in idyllic landscapes. These beings are mostly hirsute hippie types communing with nature or in the throes of some powerful hallucinogen.

In one untitled work, a long-haired, bare-chested, blissed-out guy drinks something out of a green bottle. In the next image, his face is melting into glowing globs of psychedelic colour. As does Ehman, Ethier evinces a sometimes nostalgic, sometimes monstrous vision of a countercultural state of being. It’s a kind of mother-nature’s-child condition of wonder and horror.

Jeff Ladouceur, based in Vancouver, is known for his delicate drawings of unlikely characters and surreal scenarios. Humanoid creatures and anthropomorphized natural forces are depicted in a range of peculiar situations, often spewing out tiny versions of themselves or others.

Schmo, a hobo with a bulbous head, flappy shoes, and long noodly limbs, recurs frequently in Ladouceur’s work, often in miniaturized multiples. In Untitled (reclining figure), for instance, curled up, wormlike Schmos are carried along in a stream of water, which pours from a hole in the forehead of a goofy giant. In Untitled (wooden car), intertwined sleeping Schmos, of different shapes and sizes, form the platform on which the wooden car sits. While the situations are surreal, the indignities suffered by these little guys speak to the everyday human condition.

In the past, New York artist Frank Magnotta has created exquisitely rendered graphite drawings of complex, imaginary structures and beings. His subjects are composed of surreal and hallucinogenic (yes, those words again) combinations of disjunct forms and textures. Here, however, he has drawn shelves loaded with groupings of ordinary objects: cigars in one work, seashells in another, cans of beer in another.

These images are portraits of collections, Magnotta writes in his statement, and, by extension, of the people who collect. He imbues the inanimate objects he draws with a kind of living presence, so that the cigar bands look like staring eyeballs and the shell openings look like wide, sad, or leering mouths. As with so much of the work in this show, the mood is unsettled and unsettling. Transformational. And very, very funky.

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