Pussy / A Piece
1st Loyal Order
of Yakuza Shriners
It Would Be
A Different World
If Columbus Had
Disneyland, Deconstruction and Douglas Thompson
By Michael Noonan
Voices Illustrated Man
Douglas Thompson and Randy Janson have brought a little taste of the
West Coast to the Third Coast with their show at Idao Gallery (1616
North Damen). Organized around the two artists' recent, and unrelated,
bodies of work, "California Pop and That's SODA Jerk," the show
forms an oddly coherent system of visual oppositions and conceptual concordance.
The two artists in this show share pop-art sensibilities, the state of
California, and a common curiosity about memory and perception, but they
have arrived at their common ground by following different paths.
Douglas Thompson is a graduate of the School of the Art Institute
Bachelor of Fine Arts program and the holder of an Illinois teaching
certificate. A person who's learned the ins-and-outs of making "art"
a traditional (albeit sans M.F.A.) manner.
The other half of the show, Randy Janson, is a San Diego native who
trained as, and still works as, a tattoo artist. The press release
describes him as "self-taught," and he's been exhibiting in
San Diego and San Francisco since 1994.
Most of Thompson's pieces in this show are sculptures. Some are
wall-mounted, some mounted on pedestals. Additionally, he subtly
subverts a group of knick-knacks into curious and intriguing objects,
and uses panels and old, cheap picture frames to create raised collages.
The first defaced curio to greet me as I entered the gallery was "It
Would Be A Different World If Columbus Had Discovered New Zealand."
A tiny bust of Columbus wears Maori facial tattoos in the different world.
It sets the tone for the rest of Thompson's pieces. The original significance
of the knick-knack, the vehicle of low-income memory, is patently disregarded,
and a new reality is constructed.
"First Loyal Order of Yakuza Shriners" is a trophy, incorporating
logo and a hand missing a finger. Set proudly on its own small mantle,
it enters the viewer's space, flaunting its absurdly dismembered finger.
The metal and violence of "....Yakuza Shriners" continues in
Destiny Is Burning Bridges With Blood, Sweat, and Tears" and is full
bloodstained, bullet-ridden panels and cartoon animals retreating
defeated into the woods.
The vulgarity of semantics is explored by "A Little Pussy/A Piece
Ass" and its brightly colored pink panties painted on the chest of
carved Siamese cat. Like the pervert in the street, the choice is
yours. "Good Times at the O.K. Coral Consists of Liquor in the Front
and Poker in the Rear" is an imitation of a cheaply made sculpture
cowboy riding a bucking bronco. However, in this piece, the riding
paradigm has shifted, and the cowboy is treating his horse to a
different kind of love than Gene Autry was used to giving.
Far less sexual, but just as rooted in a packrat context, Janson's
works collect the little trinkets of visual experience, not of
"4 Years Old, I'm Sick, the Toaster's Mad and Wants to Blow My
and Me Up" is a large oil painting of a shiny toaster, lightening
erupting from it, and flaming toast screaming off of the canvas. The
acid blues and yellows of the toaster strike across the green and pink
background, evoking the screaming fear of the four-year-old's mind. But
it is a four-year-old's mind, and it is a loud pink and green
background, so the fear becomes more than a little humorous.
Perception of current events, not a diabolical appliance, forms "The
Media, Killing, Monster." JonBenet Ramsey and a blurry picture of
Loch Ness Monster share the composition, in the most muted colors of the
Returning in the realm of biting color contrast and "He Visited
Called Happiest Place on Earth" features the same greens and pinks
Years..." but the alien wearing Mickey Mouse ears in the foreground
surrounded by teacups, not flaming toast. This is my favorite piece of
the installation, since, to me, aliens and Disneyland seem equally
The artists' strikingly different styles, like their different paths
into the art world, coincide in this show. Both of them have come to
concentrate on the development of the world as perceptual and
conceptual, not material. "It Would Be a Different World..."
Years Old..." both create artificial worlds that become pronouncedly
concrete to their fantasizing creators.
Both artists deal in the business of popular recollection.
Manipulating forms that are strangely universal to the White,
lower-middle class experience, they meddle with memories. A cowboy,
arms thrown back in triumph, is so commonplace, that seeing a cowboy
with his arms thrown open while raping a horse is strangely not
shocking. The historical and popular aspects are not nearly as striking
as the power of offensive images made innocuous.
By corrupting the possibility of representing reality through objects,
and eroding the stuffy systems of morals that usually govern viewing,
these two artists intentionally put the viewer in an uncomfortable role.
The art accuses the viewer of being nerdy, of possessing antiquated
social hang-ups. By showing the silliness of memory and perception,
these pieces expand the possibilities for both.
THE CHICAGO MAROON
Newspaper for the University of Chicago
Volume 109, Number 56
Friday, July 31, 1998