The Big Hoot, a new installation currently on view at CCA, is a towering and tangled sight to behold. The ceiling-high piece dominates the entire peripheral area of the warehouse-style Munoz Waxman Front Gallery. The work is made up of interconnected segments of wood; acrylic paint in psychedelic colors decorates the rolling surface of the interconnecting parts; cartoonish figures thrust out at the viewer from various angles, pulling you into a visual roller coaster that moves up and down a serpentine landscape.
The installation is the product of a collaboration between Albuquerque artists, Larry Bob Phillips and David Leigh. The two artists’ styles are similar enough to be complementary, yet different enough to add intrigue to one another. Leigh works in a more frenetic, looser style, while Phillip’s aesthetic is more finished and graphic. Both artists’ work makes use of dense organic webs of imagery. In the Big Hoot, Leigh and Phillips’ styles blend together seamlessly into a vivid, labyrinthine art work.
David Leigh, Larry Bob Phillips, The Big Hoot, sketch; Courtesy of the artists and Center for Contemporary Arts.
The Big Hoot is densely packed with an abundance of vigorous imagery. We see outcroppings of tweaked out cacti with wide, blood-shot eyes, a collection of resplendent owls, and a bespectacled sun, rising over a grove of buoyant pine trees. Images of innocence often appear in direct contrast with images of horror. In a classic car packed with characters wearing guileless expressions, one of the female characters nonchalantly holds out a can of toxic waste. A gruff male figure in black and white, armed with a machine gun, crouches behind a giant cloud of peppermint discs which hover on the horizon like a cluster of UFOs. In another segment, two bullets appear jauntily in a frying pan, accompanied by a generous pat of melting butter.
The Big Hoot’s jumble of subject matter is tied together by billowing intestine-like bands of paint that weave in and out of figures. These visual threads give the installation the appearance of an undulating net of cohesive material. The overall effect is that of a pulsating, paranoid mass. Images of violence share equal space with images of goofiness, beauty, and the mundane. The viewer’s eye settles on each vignette, pulling symbols out of the amorphous taffy of the larger piece. By teasing out sections of the larger work, one manages to grab brief snatches of meaning. The overall tone is that of disorientation, but out of the noise, themes seem to emerge. The Big Hoot is like a visual representation of the American, media-saturated psyche. War, sex, and the banal bleed together into one murky mass of material to the extent that one cannot be distinguished from another without some prying apart.
(All images: David Leigh, Larry Bob Phillips, The Big Hoot, in progress; Courtesy of the artists and Center for Contemporary Arts.)