Chimera gets close to capturing it. Not in that figurative sense of the impossible wished for thing, but in the old, weird Greek definition of chimera: a fire-breathing female monster, part lion, goat, and serpent, combined together in ways that are invariably wonky, the goat's head poking out of the lion’s back or the lion's head poking out of the goat’s neck, the snake lending itself formally to always simply being the tail. The fact that’s totally mythical to the side, I always wondered how the creature might copulate and with which species (are there male chimeras? are both goats and lions open for coupling? Snakes?! etc), and further, what would any of the above coitions look like exactly.
Looking at Richard Hawkins and Aaron Curry’s truly collaborative exhibition currently on view at David Kordansky Gallery, I feel like I now have a good visual of chimerical sex. Messy, weird, wonderful, immersive, colorful, somewhat frightening, a little overwhelming and downright libidinal.
Curry/Hawkins colab is all of the above and more. It’s like modernism as paranormally wrought by gay hillbillies. Hawkins' works have often worked with the spooky, his relatively recent diminutive spookhouses are an obvious segue back into the distinguished artist’s oeuvre but his early series of hot but decapitated young men had its own sexy, horrorshow effect. This last series was handily and happily mis-appropriated by artist Brian Kennon into pictures that made Hawkins' dark sexiness with a few shifts in meaning to be like a particularly well-made deathmetal record cover. I mention Kennon here because he, like Curry, is a former student of Hawkins, and both artists' engagement with Hawkins' work and Hawkins' engagement with his students reveal not only the artist's importance to a group of increasingly significant younger artists, a testament to his underrecognized relevance.
Here the engagement between former teacher and student is rigorous. There are specific sculptures and wall works that fall under both artists' names, but even the individually wrought works included in the exhibition feel as one through the permeating visual motifs and the weird admixture of the somewhat schticky with the discomfiting. Curry’s biomorphic sculptures have generally looked like modernist throwbacks, but here (in a trend that began in his last solo exhibition at the gallery) look like misplaced monsters, carnival freaks for a Contructivist creep shows.
The collaborative works are, according to the press release, called “Trophies” by the artists. These “Trophies” have the look and feel of fetishes, and feel like trophies as scalps or shrunken heads might also be “trophies.” Though the wallworks have this frisson of backwater corniness and menace, Karen Black Forever, 2011, feels particularly spooky. A pedestal clad in the neon cardboard screenprinted with woodgrain with a trick glory hole punched into it rests a purple, girlish shoe box (“Forever” written with swirling pink script on its side) which inside holds a shredded rubber mask, a few tufts of hair peeking out. It’s the kind of thing if you found in an abandoned barn in Appalachia, you might just start running. In a white cube gallery, however, converted to hicksville funhouse, the baleful feeling is understated though still creeping in the background, not terribly unlike the reminder that this is of course actually all art.
In an essay published in Kaleidoscope in 2010, Hawkins talks about Curry’s regular references to Picasso (famous enough in some quarters to be a simple stand-in for art as a whole) as less a young low-brow stud trying to mount the great artist, but rather a “foil for the small-mindedness of country culture.” But one can’t help but feel the adulteration goes both ways, Pablo’s obsession with bulls resembled in its way that of quite a few cowboys, his minotaurs another carnie attraction, which like the chimera finds its way back to the pagans of Greece (Pagan, by the way, derives from the Latin paganus which roughly translates to “country people.”) I begun with chimeras, and the chimera isn’t just of course the fantastical monster, the Ancient Greek boogeyman with plenty of hifaluting Classical references to hitch it to. But the Chimera is also of course something you could easily imagine in a travelling freak show. It’s a confluence and a place where Curry and Hawkins are quite comfortable.
Top Image: Installation shot for Aaron Curry and Richard Hawkin's collaborative exhibition, Cornfabulation. Courtesy the artists and David Kordasnky Gallery, Los Angeles.