Shinkansen Conspiracy is the annoyingly obtuse title for the third-annual group grope of artists associated with Last Gasp Books. Like most exhibitions featuring artists brought together for no particular reason (I love Winston Smith's and Junko Mizuno's work, but please don't ask me what King Chrome and Deranged 1 have in common), this show, now on view at the 111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco, does not trouble itself with curatorial purpose or cohesion, although many of the pieces have been thoughtfully presented in this bar that doubles as an art gallery. For the record, there were only a couple of images dealing with trains, the most memorable being a lovely little pen-and-ink by Hal Robins of a Shinkansen bullet train. Given the large number of paintings and graphics focused on tattoo art, the numerous depictions of zoophilia on view and the profusion of pop surrealism, this quiet, literal reference to the show's title was no doubt an oversight.
Jennybird Alcantara, I Bleed (Making Fast Friends in Dreamland), 2011.
Typical of the exhibition's Last Gasp 'tude is Jennybird Alcantara's oil-on-wood painting called I Bleed (Making Fast Friends in Dreamland), in which a pink-flesh pair of gothy female creatures (think Blythe dolls on heroin) share a skirt made from the surface of a pool of blood. In another gallery, Skinner provides the yang to Alcantara's yin with his Wendigo Diety, Eater of Man, a muscular, comic-book-style painting of a naked two-headed humanoid monster, crouching on piles of multi-colored skulls as he feeds a struggling victim into one of his mouths with his right fist while clutching a second, bloody, would-be snack in his left.
Kevin Taylor, The Whale Construction II, 2012.
While I admired the creepy fastidiousness of Alcantara and the brutal awesomeness of Skinner, I found myself returning after repeated circuits through the galleries to the more "traditional" work in the show, such as Kevin Taylor's masterfully weird The Whale Construction II, which depicts a sperm whale surrounded by the scaffolding one might imagine would be needed for its assembly. The detail in Taylor's oil-on-wood painting is so seductive, I got happily lost in the way he'd filled in the whale's body and surrounding landscape, so much so that I almost missed the rope suspended from unseen heights to support the mammal's massive fluke. The Whale Construction II is a fantastical enough image without this small detail, but a rope dangling from nowhere makes it that much more magical.
Isabel Samaras, The Porridge Eaters, 2009.
Even more ostensibly traditional is Isabel Samaras' The Porridge Eaters, whose name is an alliterative reference to van Gogh's The Potato Eaters, although the two paintings have nothing in common visually. In this oil-on-wood diptych, Samaras pairs a modern-day Goldilocks, who wears a personalized necklace that reads "Goldy" and has a honeybee tat on the inside of her right wrist, with Baby, the bear whose porridge is neither too hot nor too cold but "just right." In Samaras' version of the fairy tale, the two characters have become friends, and if you look past the serious bling around Baby's neck and finger, you can even see a diamond in its tooth. The porridge business, we surmise, has been good to Baby. Samaras' work is not profound or perhaps even important, but it is beautifully executed and funny. That would be enough for me, but the reason why these paintings are so successful, I think, is because of the restraint Samaras shows when it comes to content. When production values are this over the top, it's smart to keep the plot simple.
Shinkansen Conspiracy is on view through July 28, 2012, at 111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco. For more information, visit 111minnagallery.com.