“Dark Realism/Dark Surrealism” at Gregorio Escalante
By: Sydney Walters
Through December 23rd
This month, Gregorio Escalante pays homage to decay, growth and the fragile subconscious. Curated by Chet Zar and Greg Escalante, Dark Realism/Dark Surrealism is an assembled show of over twenty artists. Surrealism, a movement that flourished primarily in the early twenty-first century, presents artist’s dreams and visions uninhibited by rational. Realism holds a steady presence throughout art history, although its aim is to represent a subject truthfully, without supernatural elements. In this case, the incongruity of realism and surrealism unite in darkness. A darkness preoccupied with damnable imaginings of hell, havoc and the devil.
Chet Zar curates Dark Surrealism, the upstairs gallery exhibiting works by Sarah Elise Abramson, Samuel Araya, Tom Bagshaw, Ryan Brown, Nathan Cartwright, Kristina Drake, William Hand, F. Scott Hess, Karen Hsiao, Stephanie Inagaki, Jed Leiknes, Elizabeth McGrath and Brian Poor, NYCHOS, Ransom and Mitchell, Lee Shamel, Brian Smith, Stanislav, David Stoupakis, Jon Swihart, Christopher Ulrich, David Van Gough, Jasmine Worth, Lauren YS, Chet Zar and Peter Zokosky.
In the center of the gallery, Lee Shamel’s thirteen-foot Scepter of the Crystal Flame pulsates icy light in its giant orb. Like a clock dial, it circulates visitors around the gallery. Therefore, it becomes activated as a gothic steward of motion and time.
Against the wall stands Damn-O-Meter, a collaborative sculpture between Elizabeth McGrath and Brian Poor. The label on this re-purposed fortune-teller coin-op machine reads:
Know Your Destiny Now
For Only 25 Cents
Your Kharmic Energies Will Be Read To Determine Where You Are Headed
Heaven or Hell
Consult The Damn-O-Meter Before It’s
Too Late To Redeem Your Eternal Soul!
The Damn-O-Meter offers subtext to the rest of the show: anything that claims to know your salvation or damnation is chalked up to consumerist culture.
An example of this is David Van Gough’s The Devil. In Van Gough’s vision, the devil is not in the details but in the distractions. The devil, a figure with the body of a man dressed as a soldier and the head of an animal skull, hovers cross-legged over a boy and a girl. While the girl looks down at her phone and the boy down at his handheld device, two battleships steer towards the pair. Meanwhile, a giant octopus rises from the ocean and gasoline pumps belch oil into the water. In this painting, either the Earth is the devil’s dominion and we distract ourselves while it burns, or our devices are the devil’s tools for wreaking havoc on the world. Perhaps it is a bit of both.
The most expansive piece in the show is Christopher Ulrich’s The Last Supper. This sixteen by eight foot oil painting takes up an entire wall of the gallery. In it, Ulrich reimagins Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic painting of Christ’s last meal with his disciples. One variation is that there are a few more guests at the table. God the Father stands close to the seated Mary holding the infant Jesus. Human mutations with horns and wings walk around the table and a dragon-like serpent writhes on the floor while being tended to by small cherubs. The sheer size of the painting and atmospheric blending of the oils corresponds with traditional Renaissance painting, which makes for an absorbing experience.
Below the main gallery, guests are invited to descend into the lair of Myron Conan Dyal’s imaginings. In Dark Realism, dim lights illuminate a low-ceilinged space filled with Dyal’s creations. Figures seem to dance around a man-sized being bent over a keyboard. Dyal, a self claimed mystic, artist and musician, has had Epileptic seizure induced visions since childhood. Now able to channel his visions into a palpable medium, the result is a concert hall of gods, goddesses and other mystical sprites.
In this diverse exhibit, realism and surrealism meet at a dark crossroad. Sometimes, artist turn divine inspired art down a hellish road to advocates and normalize rebellion. Other times, artists excavate subconscious dreams and present with a banner of authority. In all cases, these artists courageously reckon with some of the darkest reaches of the supernatural.