LAUREL GITLEN | JANUARY 16 – FEBRUARY 18, 2011
Gallery intel reveals that Michael Patterson-Carver is a self-taught artist from Chicago with a wry sense of humor and a healthy disdain for the United States government. Loose Lips Do Sink Ships broadcasts itself as Outsider Art (oooh, can we still say that?) from 50 paces outside the gallery with all its flat perspectives, unadorned figures, and flat wash watercolors. This seems a calculated rejection of the subtlety, experimentation, and abstraction more commonly accepted in the predictably transgressive world of, um, Insider Art.
Patterson-Carver’s simple, assured lines seem to suggest some bizarro-world children’s book illustrations, all flat-perspective storyboards, straightforward compositions, and soft watercolors in candy hues. Yet, Loose Lips is no Fun With Dick and Jane, no matter what its suggestively elementary components seem at first glance—perhaps, instead, “Disinformation with Dick (Cheney) and Jane (Norton – Republican, Colorado).” In these just-slightly-uncomfortably-large images, Patterson-Carver ushers the viewer inside his conspiracy theories, at times veering into a garbled, dated jargon one might expect to find on the crumpled cardboard signage clutched in the hands of any cartoon wild-eyed lunatic, raving on a subway platform to no one in particular about how Nancy Reagan stole his brain stem, and laying out in shrieks and mumbles the mechanics of just how Froot Loops® are made from pure cadmium and termite eggs.
But where much art branded “outsider,” and filed under the category of “political,” would perhaps also lean heavily toward classifications like dour or, say, schizophrenic and patently terrifying, Patterson-Carver’s visions of a complicated Tea Party ’n’ Black Ops-fueled doom are irrefutably comic, albeit dark and apocalyptic. Yes! The United States government may well be robbing its citizens of all their basic freedoms, all those mysterious covert operations one would hope died with the Cold War may well be very real and very active, and the Bill of Rights may have perished quietly on September 12, 2001, but all these horrors are somehow simultaneously charming and defanged in this artist’s hands. The beatific smiles of napping Democrats (aka “Commie Pinkos”), snuggled cozily in their twee campaign headquarter bunkbeds, while a clearly Nazi-shaped Republican army mounts outside, seem to almost smirk back at the viewer. The powder blue exam gloves draped flaccidly about the waste can labeled, “BODY CAVITY SEARCH WASTE ONLY,” seem poised to crawl away, off the frame, up the rectum of the offending hand. Patterson-Carver’s figures, all overly-simple (yet somehow with just enough detail to tell you this spare sketch is absolutely, positively President Bush or President Obama), manage to convey the appropriate slack-jawed shock, apathy, wry disgust, or unbridled malignance. His bright colors and rudimentary staging allow for an easily digested point, but the joke is in that subtle wink—a droll title, and a soft touch where most would use a predictably heavy hand.
Patterson-Carver’s brilliance rests uneasily in the claustrophobic space between truly unique humor and absolute batshit insanity—the sense that perhaps he truly sees men in black suits with cameras just outside his window, spying on his internet search results, having afternoon tea with the Tea Party, plotting with Karl Rove and J. Edgar Hoover and the other baddies to bring down all the Pinko hippie leftists by rigging the elections from within secret Black Ops caves in the sewers. Or perhaps he’s simply a clever artist who understands that hyperbole is the best way to elicit action from the bloodless, jaded Pinko gallery viewer of today. Maybe that’s just what they want you to think.
ContributorGail Victoria Braddock Quagliata