Troubling possibilities 

J. Ivcevich's retro renderings address a culture blind to ominous portents

J. Ivcevich's solo show at Saltworks Gallery ... Tis of Thee could be called a post-Sept. 11 art event.

Ivcevich is just one of many artists beginning to shrug off the immediate Sept. 11 rhetoric that branded any critic of national policy a traitor and anything less than lockstep flag waving tantamount to Commie-talk. Dripping anxiety and outrage, Ivcevich's far-ranging show of paintings, sculpture and a mini-golf installation looks at America with a jaundiced eye that is at times sublime and at other times too steeped in snide rage to seem deeper than a youthful rage against the machine.

The sculptural elements in this otherwise superior show are especially unsatisfying, with none of the complexity and troubling subtext of Ivcevich's paintings. Instead, works like an American "Flag for the Open Road," composed of truck parts and rooster heads, or "Hunting Cattle with a Hammer," featuring a row of rainbow colored "crucified" cow skulls, use a fairly simplistic array of found objects to convey a vague idea of critique without effectively demonstrating its peculiarities.

Ivcevich's America is a cloyingly superficial place where people see what they want to see, like the row of gaudy flowers rendered in the color scheme of '60s bed linens and dusty pink powder rooms in the painting "Fighter Plane Over a Flowery Plain." Behind that cheery landscape is the ghost image of a jet plane blending into the vast blue sky. Ivcevich has much in common with Atlanta artist Gretchen Hupfel, who also made radio towers and airplanes resonate with troubling possibilities while suggesting blue skies not as metaphors for escape and freedom but for an invisible, entrapping bell jar of telecommunications and aeronautics.

Ivcevich tends to lose steam when his outrage grows too obvious and splenetic, as in titles like "Neon Christ on the Fourth of July" or "She Doesn't Want to Hear Anymore of Your Excuses," in which a small black girl with her back to us covers her ears in the kiddie-gesture of "talk to the hand." The image seems to awkwardly drag race into the mix, while using the kitschy touchstone of a child to critique a society of misplaced values.

Where Ivcevich excels is not in such instantly discerned critique, but in his formal apparatus of attack. The artist's interplay of plainspoken antirealist realism, where there is no nuance or shading in either his color scheme or his flat, depthless images, gives everything the carefully demarcated borders of camouflage or paint by numbers. That schematic way of rendering the world ultimately says something about our desire to see things in equally clear-cut terms.

By reducing humankind to blank templates, to faceless uniformed utility workers or road crews in neon orange vests, Ivcevich draws from a powerful tradition of propaganda, advertising and signage that telegraph agendas with a boldface clarity. What Ivcevich has detected is a culture that can also make people into a kind of signage. In "Aftermath," the jumpsuit and purposeful stride that we find reassuring in our workers becomes a little more disturbing when that worker carries an ax and looks ready to mop up the fallout of some nuclear holocaust.

The road sign simplicity of Ivcevich's drawings often gives them the look of '60s or '70s graphics, and that retro-fascination is one of Ivcevich's other compelling contributions to painting's bag of tricks. From his color scheme of rusts and limey greens to his object-vocabulary of Dodge Dusters and Airstream trailers, Ivcevich mixes a world of the past with an ominous future. "Sunset Over Bankrupt Dreams" is typically backward glancing with its array of power lines and cranes framed in silhouette against a blazing sunset, whose individual half-moons of gaudy color give the image the look of a '70s concert T-shirt.

The smarty-britches attitude continues in the back of the Saltworks bus, with Savannah artist Michael Scoggins' riotous drawings executed on enormous sheets of paper done up to resemble pages torn from school days composition notebooks. In a message nicely complementary to Ivcevich's similarly bare bones paintings, the drawings are ripe with applicability to the current rush to war. Referencing the ultimate "naif" art in his stick figure drawings, Scoggins has his "Army Men Vs. Bad Guys" fighting hilariously simplified wars of good and evil. The work beautifully captures some of the obsessiveness of children's minds as expressed in their drawings, even as it critiques a culture anxious to mold young minds into properly obedient putty.

The boy-centric view of things continues in the amusing "Project Room" installation where Club Rio has put the tools of DJ and teenage boy fantasy in the viewer's hands. Gallery-goers can create their own "I am the DJ" mix on a handy computer monitor and then view a hilarious "what-if?" fantasy in which a tiny model of the Saltworks space boasts a souped-up funny car on a roller coaster track soaring through the gallery. Duuuuuuude.

From Scott Lawrence's lonely Wild West buffalos drawings to Club Rio's carny come-ons to the implicit anti-warmongering critiques of Ivcevich and Scoggins, these diverse works hang surprisingly well together, addressing all manner of Americana from the style-defined '60s to the early 20th century with shared investigative and clever approaches.



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