By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
White slices up the journal writings of people, all scrawled on tepid greenish graph paper, and shellacs them to a flat surface, mosaic-style. In the midst of these geo-clean shapes and random scribbles he's tossed in a few hand-sized wooden discs--beige, with holes in their centers, and swimming in translucent hardened glue, evoking giant Cheerios in skim milk. No visual depth, no inspired layering of context, no hooks for the viewer besides the option of reading some of the strangers' words, and that gets real old, real quickly. It's difficult to care when the pieces are about as interesting to the eye as the blank wall behind it.
Andrew Daleo has a nice way with airplanes, less of a way with color choices. His series of Messerschmitt fighter planes, the kind the Nazis sent into dogfights during World War II, flits into your view with worthy, big-canvas aplomb, but fails to deliver the bullets. Unlike White, Daleo is being ironic, by coloring this brutal icon as a flat platter of Easter-egg pastels. I don't know, but even generations removed from the action, I can't reconcile what the planes mean within our history and the way Daleo chooses to undercut that meaning with a flippant attitude, like he just decided to paint airplanes because they look cool.
Even if he's trying to be ironic, you've got to deliver a razor-sharp message to make it stick. Think James Rosenquist's rocket morphing into macaroni: The sense of massive technology and mass consumption were at a high when he painted "F-111" in 1964, and the imagery cut through a novel's worth of explanation. That Daleo doesn't even bother to finish out the images of the fighters gives this a half-assed, half-baked sheen, as though painting a symbol of war, of destruction, of pure adrenaline, and then glossing it with pink and green is enough to convey a younger generation's inability to comprehend real war.
Brynn Helber's work fares much better, mostly on the strength of his aggressive color use and his sink-into-the-depths backgrounds. One of his untitled works has all the surrealness of Yellow Submarine, only a bit more horror-show and lacking the arch cartooniness of Peter Max. Helber's scarlet sub drifting through a blood-red seascape of artichokes and dripping digestive-tract organs is effectively trippy, creepy, and funny all at once. It's his adding, on top of these, Freud-meets-LSD images that more often than not sabotages the original inherent beauty, or simple impact, of the works. Two ballerinas dance beneath a storm of appliances: blenders, toasters, vacuum cleaners. Really now. Billy Idol's "White Wedding" video, anyone?
But his toy paintings--that is, paintings that double as wall-mounted toys--are ingenious. They're beautifully crafted, and the single super-imposed images on small panels (again, submarine and artichoke) suffer from no forced associations. Just a lone sub propelling through the bottom of a mustard-yellow ocean, the panel surrounded by a gizmo-embellished frame of rich, red bubinga wood, anchored to the panel with dowels. Cut-out sea waves gush across the top of the frame, and if you turn the little attached crank, a small, smooth wooden submarine bobs up and down behind them. Same concept for the artichoke painting: Turn the crank, and three shiny bulbs tip and twirl on top, like a dancing crown. It creates a fitting conundrum for gallery art. You have to repress years' worth of hands-off training to play. And the odd imagery and off-kilter colors save these toys from abject cuteness. They're a bit too tweaked for actual kids.
Joseph Stashkevetch is at Turner and Runyon through November 25. Call (214) 653-1130. Jeff White, Andrew Daleo, and Brynn Helber are at Gallery 414 through November 22. Call (817) 926-4111.