We live in strange, but interesting times, indeed, when so many grown men seem so obsessed with cuteness. From "SpongeBob" to Japanese artist Takashi Murakami to Rob Reger's Emily the Strange, there are plenty of male artists and animators whose taste and iconography puts a boyish, contemporary spin on smiley faces, rainbows and unicorns.
Sure, several of these cases present an inversion and investigation of "cuteness." But it's hard not to feel that, like tomboys enjoying the liberating freedom of swinging a baseball bat, these cuteness-enthralled girly-men are just enjoying the sheer pleasure of the big-headed, big-eyed sublimely adorable.
Chicago artist Jeremiah Ketner is undoubtedly an artist who likes getting his cute on. His enchanting paintings on wood at the funky Buckhead-alternative gallery Alcove feature a cast of inflated-head cuties, some like little art chicks, others like anthropomorphized Q-Tips, with sweet, crescent moon smiles. The happy folk float through a yummy mint-hued atmosphere surrounded by sprinkles of chubby raindrops. Those susceptible to extremes of stylized cuteness may feel as though they've died and gone to 12-year-old Tokyo schoolgirl heaven.
Ketner mixes up his helium happiness with saucy little visual motifs that suggest everything is not quite so innocent. Polyp and plant shapes spurt watery droplets and the world seems to be caught up in a perpetual state of spermy, busy dewiness that suggests reproduction and pollination never stray far from Ketner's thoughts.
It is hard not to be a little let down by San Diego mixed media artist Joshua Krause's palette of muddy, exhaust-fume browns and dried blood shades when compared to Ketner's breathless, Sweet Tart effervescence. Ketner's work is consistent, but Krause is all over the place, offering paintings on wood, and long, scroll-like paintings on canvases and assemblages of feathers, rocks, tin cans and books as found-object recipes. Better than any of Krause's individual pieces is the arrangement of his customized, gothed-up books and customized Spam tins which, when arranged into a grouping on one wall, have a striking visual cohesion and just look far better and tighter than anything else Krause has on view.
New Paintings from Jeremiah Ketner and Joshua Krause. Through June 19. Alcove Gallery. Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. 2110 Peachtree Road, Suite C. 404-663-0159. www.alcovearts.com.
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