Even when Atlanta-based artist Alex Kvares is restrained, he is scary, scary stuff. A member of the art collective Golden Blizzard and a prolific solo artist, too, Kvares has toned down his stock-in-trade scatological death-metal visuals for his first exhibition at Castleberry Hill's Romo Gallery.
In keeping with that "restraint," the suppurating pustules, gory entrails, puddles of blood, car wrecks, murder, mayhem and enough bad attitude to fuel 10 Black Sabbath covers have gone underground. Gone, too, are the acid pinks and blues and piss-yellow colors that give Kvares' works their assaulting edge.
That chromatic excess has been replaced by subtle pencil drawings embellished with occasional threads of more subdued color. Kvares' new drawings are like Belgian lace work or cake icing compared with the artist's previous Grand Guignol gothics.
Fans of the artist's death-tripping work might initially feel a slight nostalgic pang for a moment, of missing the old Kvares, the quintessential badass artist daring you to keep eyeballing his giddy grotesques.
But though the shock troops are gone, there is something more satisfying in their wake in these quietly disturbing "landscapes" where the scary skeletal faces and dismembered bodies are buried beneath mounds of graphic white noise: piles of hair and heaps of obsessive, doodled detail.
In pencil-on-paper works such as "Mountain of Reverb" and "Quintet," masses of abstract visual detail, spikes, crystals and ropes of beads dominate images from which microphones, turntables and drum sets and other musical tropes emerge. Kvares' work often has dealt with music culture and its cathartic venting of alienation and rage. But these latest precisely controlled works, instead of expressing rage and protest, seem a visual expression of music itself -- the building crescendos, the waves of sound. Kvares' detail is demonically precise; the shading and gestures are so focused and refined it lends a delicacy and refinement to the madness that hasn't been so evident in the cock-rock preening of his previous work.
The restraint and contained, interiorized psychedelia suits Kvares, who says more when his acid impulses merely bubble and percolate beneath the surface than when he blows his wad.
An indication of Kvares' new restraint is how well his work jibes with Brooklyn artist Ryan Mrozowski's cucumber-cool, minimalist drawings. Like Kvares, Mrozowski's visual shtick is all about energy distilled into a small space, harnessed-in emotions and psychological containment.
Mrozowski's drawings deal with groups, with power dynamics, with group think and sheep-like behavior. Tending to keep his color scheme simple and his graphics stark, Mrozowski's "Untitled" is a typically restrained drawing of a herd of dogs in shades of green, blue and yellow against a flat black background. That notion of the herd crops up again and again in Mrozowski's drawings of human groups, such as the identically dressed people in "A Charlatan's Tale" who appear captivated by a mesmeric figure with a Rasputin beard and halo crowning his head. The shared color scheme and similar posture to the listeners suggests blind obedience and absolute conformity and the rapt attention of people who have lost their will to object.
Mrozowski's black-and-white drawings suggest the surreal patterns of M.C. Escher crossed with the social critique of political cartoons. In "With Capes to Protect Us," unarmed spectators are "protected" from a passive herd of cattle by flamboyantly gesturing matadors. In "Discovered Among the Whales," people perform the identical gestures of taking photographs and leading tours while killer whales perform.
Such works indicate human behavior that is as orchestrated and instinctual as anything seen in the animal kingdom.
In Kvares' and Mrozowski's similarly controlled and cool art work, humanity can seem a strange, perverse spectacle.
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