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Chris Hipkiss
Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art
756 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60622
April 23, 2008 - August 30, 2008

The busy busy world of Chris Hipkiss
by Thea Liberty Nichols

The middle of August means summer’s on the wane, and so is Chris Hipkiss’s show at Intuit. With only a few short weeks left to view this British-born, French-based self-taught artist's liberal number of large scale drawings on display, one should budget ample time to grapple with the scale of these works and the amount of information compacted into each square inch.

The long view of the eight to ten-foot scrolls on display reveals an abysmal forecast for the future of our planet. An environmental activist, Hipkiss also scrutinizes the damage humans have done to themselves and their emotional environments, depicting titillating and goose-bump bubbling scenes of eroticism and mortal combat.

If you loose yourself in the details, you’ll notice the protagonists that populate Hipkiss’s dystopia are scores of teaming waifish women. Although all are thin and have vacant, zombie stares, the costumes they’re clad in run the spectrum from S & M Goths to primped and poised fifties-era pin ups. At least half of the figures have exposed genitalia that range from hermaphroditic penises sprouting out of vaginas, to the cyborg-inspired light bulbs and firecrackers standing in for sex organs.

Mostly graphite on paper, the gray scale in Hipkiss’s drawings is tempered by occasional metallic silver and gold markers. In a glib gesture maligning contemporary culture, and perhaps the art market, Hipkiss’s drawings often bear a barcode, with his last name neatly mixed into the lines and numbers of the symbol in place of a signature.

Hipkiss’s forecast for our future is slightly more complex then his evident gendering of nature as feminine and culture as masculine. His Retro-Futurism, exemplified by the dated, New-Deal era factory smoke stakes and maze of pipes which frequently loom on the horizon line of his drawings, reveal a vision of the future with several retrograde elements in it. And although these industrial power plants mar the landscape in the foreground of a majority of his works, the mutated flora and fauna contained within are also far from bucolic.

Much like the industrial manufacturing it mimics, (which Hipkiss depicts as both under our control and out of our control) the earth itself is shown radiating row after taxonomic row of obsessively rendered alien plant species (each of which are numbered, at times reaching up to four digits in length) and plagues of patterned fire flies. The results are a composite reminiscent of a maniacal Busy Busy World of Richard Scary illustration.

If you make the trip to Intuit, don’t miss the haunting permanent installation of artist and author Henry Darger’s one room home and studio tucked away in the corner pocket of their sprawling space. Formerly located at 851 Webster Street in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, everything on display from the light fixtures, dark brown walls and worn furnishings are the originals, reinstalled based on documentary photographs of the room taken from when Darger occupied it.

Although the staggering amount of stuff is just a fraction of what the room originally contained, the installation makes for a macabre Pee-Wee’s playhouse, with it’s mound of shoes, dozens of balls of twine, shoe boxes full of snapped rubber bands (that Darger repaired by melting broken edges together), and piles of water color paints with each individual colored cube popped out of its original tin and re-organized by color.

These items contextualize his particular, peculiar and painstaking labors, which manifested themselves in his almost forty-year project of painting and collaging drawings of the Vivian Girls into a volumous tome which he also wrote the narrative for, the bulk of which has found its way into the vaults of New York’s American Folk Art Museum.

The dramatic disconnect between the size of his room and the amount of stuff it held, both concrete, in the form of mountains of collections, and illusory, in regards to his fantastical artwork and writings, is a testament to what a driven individual alone with their work for a lifetime can create.

--Thea Liberty Nichols

Posted by Thea Liberty Nichols on 8/18/08

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