An Apt Name for a Solid Pop-Surrealist Tradition: “Creepy Cute” at WWA Gallery
Dee Chavez, “Buttercup Farm,” acrylic on wood.
My first pop-surrealist “creepy cute” experience occurred when I moved to LA in 2000 and first saw Mark Ryden’s portrait of Christina Ricci in a poster shop. Like everyone else on the planet, I immediately fell in love with the oversized head; the enormous, shimmering eyes; the soft edges in the painting; and with all of that the implication of darkness underneath, since Ricci is so well known for playing dark or off-beat characters. (I fell especially hard for Ryden because he was really my introduction to pop surrealism.
Larkin, “Saint Gus and Pilot,” acrylic on panel with crochet frame.
When I lived in New York I mainly kept my nose in underground comics and didn’t look up long enough to notice posters or gallery walls.) Eager for more, I became acquainted with galleries like Cannibal Flower, Copro Nason, and La Luz de Jesus. There I was introduced to the disturbing circus-sideshow creatures of Liz McGrath, Anthony Ausgang’s stretched cartoon characters, Luke Chueh’s white bears with bloody eyes and extremities, Ron English’s bloated but jolly images of Ronald McDonald, and the work of many more artists who compellingly joined sinister and sweet in various ways: by combining the two characteristics in one twisted subject, making an angel and a devil appear to be in cahoots, making a dark figure a sore thumb in a cute setting, sullying a cute thing with disfigurement or evil, or implying darkness by showing that cuteness can be nauseatingly overdone or commercial.
Kelly Hutchison, “The Bone Shaker,” oil on canvas.
Since we all have our own feelings about what’s creepy and what’s cute, it’s a broad theme, and the seven artists featured in WWA Gallery’s current show all take approaches that are very different and give the show great variety. For example, Dee Chavez’s paintings are colorful fantasies in which live things appear bewildered in their unexpected settings (such as a whale that can’t successfully dive in peanut-butter cups, or hills with faces that look very sad—maybe because they’re stuck in one place). Meanwhile, Peter Adamyan brings in politics, making Papa Smurf into Karl Marx and Ronald Reagan into Gargamel, the smurf-eating villain. Even when there aren’t ironies or struggles in the works in this show, we see eeriness in very pink habitats for very darling animals and in the mingling of beings and objects that don’t look like they could coexist safely for very long.
Peter Adamyan, “A Smurfy Coldwar,” oil and acrylic on wood relief.
“Creepy Cute” is on view through Feb. 9 at WWA Gallery, 9517 Culver Blvd, Culver City 90232. For more details, visit wwagallery.com.