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Drive-by shooting 

J. Ivcevich turns the open road into a haunted highway

J. Ivcevich is only 32, but so far he has worn the entrepreneurial hats of music producer, visual artist, DJ (known as J. Stroke) and record label co-owner. Oh, and sock designer. His Johnny Rotten striped socks are sold at eclectic venues across the country, from art museums to small boutiques.

Ivcevich sees that far-ranging creativity as having practical DIY origins: If you want to hear good music, sometimes you've got to make it. If you want to see good art, you have to create it.

"I've been tempted to get a video camera and start making film loops and stuff," Ivcevich says, laughing at the thought of venturing into yet another creative realm.

"But I think I'm just going to chill."

Chilling, however, is a relative term. The thought of not moving, producing and creating seems anathema to Ivcevich. But lately, a lot of those creative ventures have fallen aside while visual art has bubbled to the top of Ivcevich's frontal lobe. And his art cred groweth. Ivcevich had a solo show at Saltworks Gallery, made the cover of the national New American Paintings magazine, and is represented by galleries from New York's Mitchell-Innes & Nash to Indianapolis Ruschman Gallery.

When most artists can't pay their latte bill on what they make from art, Ivcevich actually makes a living from his paintings, which range from $20 for photo-based pieces to $4,000 for large paintings. Part of the secret to his success is undoubtedly the time he puts into his work: about six hours a day, five days a week (on the disco schedule of noon to 7 p.m.).

The eclectic clutter of his studio at the Saltworks Gallery complex attests to the amount of time Ivcevich spends there as well as to the various musical, visual and cultural influences that inspire him. His paint-splattered space is a hub of form and function. Utilitarian drums of resin and paint take up nearly all the floor, but at the perimeter of the space are his conceptual synapse triggers: a photograph of a naked Asian woman, jigsaw puzzle artwork, bones, dried flowers, plastic containers of candy corns, Halloween masks and tchotchkes from his grandparents house.

Ivcevich boils all of these influences down into a distinctive roux of simplified graphic forms, toxic colors and post-industrial imagery of electrical towers, bridges, Airstream trailers and airplanes. It feels both retro and futuristic, suggesting a collision of retro pop art a la Ed Ruscha and graffiti (which Ivcevich also has dabbled in).

Ivcevich's signature style is often a juxtaposition of pretty and pretty scary. He finds shadings of fear within the most ubiquitous things. Ivcevich's solo show, Ghost on the Highway, at SunTrust Plaza is further evidence of his patented candy-coated doom.

The photo-based images in Ghost were taken on Ivcevich's well-traveled route to his hometown of Indianapolis. He has taken a realist landscape of construction pylons, semis, exit signs and highway lines and given them traces of the vaguely psychedelic. In "East to West and Back Again," a coven of semis floats like phantoms in the sky.

Ivcevich often paints highway lines or molten, melting suns on top of the photographs to create an eerie, surreal presence -- like an aura or hallucination -- layered on top of the reality of the road. Ivcevich's spooky highway specters hint at the mirages that fatigued drivers often glimpse through bloodshot eyes.

Exit signs tick by, the median lines begin to float, an enormous semi looms like some post-industrial Tyrannosaurus rex. And there are blood smears on the highway. Ivcevich comments on the frequent sight of fatal roadside accidents with "And I'll Love You Forever," a sculptural splatter in the gallery's dead center featuring puddles of shiny red blood.

Violence has always lurked on the periphery of Ivcevich's works, but in Ghost on the Highway, it has come home to roost. America's most cherished ribbon of freedom and escape -- the holy open road -- has transformed into the pathway of its destruction.

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