RO2-Downtown was buzzing this past Saturday with TJ Griffin's new show, Remove Your Mask. The show teased enough subversive content to pique my interest, so I arrived and was instantly immersed in a seedy study of identity and sexual politics. Griffin's sculptures and canvases filled the room, each featuring older men as superheroes.
Griffin is an MFA graduate with a love of research who plans on returning to finish his Ph.D. This superhero series is the manifestation of his latest data excavation where he explored heroes, masks and their roles in tribal cultures.
The main installation room is decorated with artifacts that one would expect to find in a cross-your-heart motel, along with an older man with a joyful disposition dressed in a cape, mask, wrestling bottoms, wrestler-like boots, and blue boxing gloves. This is when everything changes: Your initial reaction of "how adorable" shifts -- you notice the coffee table, old TV and couch. These reminders of run-down, rough-sheet lodgings drum up images of hookers and casual encounters. The question begs, "Is this older, happy man waiting on a younger companion for sex?" The provocation of a younger companion could reflect the artist himself, being in his late 20's.
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The subversive content is softened by the whimsy of the banners, posters, mini-sculptures, and youth-infused vibe of the gallery. One of sculptures features a male head in a mouse-type mask atop a disembodied head. You almost dismiss the naked head laying in front of the mask as the colors red, white and blue call out from the piece, expressing fragments of a shattered American Dream. The patriotic color scheme is prevalent throughout the work, and is almost used as a mask itself.
The oil paintings are well-executed and reiterate the theme of superhero retirees, laced with S&M overtones. The feet and crotches of the subjects are exaggerated with one of them having hoofed toes and another with an extremely large pelvic area. You are provoked to begin thinking of "daddy" stereotypes in response to their genitalia. Quickly your eyes shift to the red, white, and blue decor, which has now become your happy place within the work. The intelligent design and thoughtful inclusion of motion-rich splatters on the works were a subtle nod to the Abstract Expressionists, who originally influenced Griffin's style.
The controversial subject matter is softened by the hue-rich decor, giving an overall balance rarely seen in a gallery show. Griffin's work is strong. His use of color, technique and installation combine to create work that is a must see. RO2 Downtown at 110 N. Akard Street is open 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, or by appointment. Call 214.803.9575.