Two separate but simultaneous shows—Camille Rose Garcia’s La Danse Macabre and Peter Ferguson’s Fire in the Maproom!— are in their final week at Roq La Rue. Garcia’s work blends primarily twentieth century cartoon iconography (Disney, Fleischer, Van Beuren) with a dark dayglo palette that looks poisonous to the touch. Ferguson uses a muted neutral palette in his compositions that draw from early Americana, literary illustration, weird fiction and even a few nods to Dutch masters. The juxtaposition covers a lot of historical ground and works strangely well, most of all because of the strong characterization and all over compositions in both artists work. Despite how polarized certain aspects of the aesthetics are, these distinct pieces play well with others in one space.
Each of Garcia’s paintings is a fever dream in bold, sinuous strokes, full of teeth and ghosts, smoking pipes and cadaverous ladies. These are forms familiar to us, forms that were first born during war time, the Great Depression and the hangover of 1920s decadence. Those desaturated spectacles were made to appeal to adults and children alike, seductive to the eye, featuring characters that were violent and indestructible. There is still something playful and universally appealing about Garcia’s works, but her phantasms are individually not at all playful. They are grim, garish, predatory specters from the infancy of moving pictures, from a time that is as socially, politically and economically relevant as ever.
Ferguson’s inspirations reach back just a little further, pulled from the late 1800s especially, when European colonialism was peaking, science was beginning to undo superstition, terrestrial exploration was coming to (what was perceived in Europe and colonial America) its last frontiers, causing an ecumenical unraveling of longstanding ideas and cultures that were being reintegrated into each other in a motley, often volatile way. It was a time of ghastly and naive contradictions that in hindsight are abominable to some and romantic to others. Ferguson allows for both, bonding soldiers of imagined nations in tearful embraces, putting cryptic creatures in parlors and foyers, and putting humans on the edge of the wilderness with menacing forces on nature. He does so with exquisite technique and references to old masters, most notably in “Hunter,” which compositionally references Bruegel’s “The Hunters in Snow.” In Bruegel’s painting, the hunters are obviously the figures in the foreground trudging home. With Ferguson, the eponymous hunter is more open to interpretation.
The periods referenced by Garcia and Ferguson (and many other painters categorized as Pop Surrealists) were notably periods when art was being rapidly redefined by secessionist movements, the avant-garde and popular entertainment. The effect that all of this had on the arts, the formation of image culture and aesthetic theories and therefore all media and the ways we communicate—the continuing ripples of these periods cannot be understated. (Not incidentally, it is a bit of history repeating when Pop Surrealism is dismissed by established tastemakers and critics, much as those earlier (now canon) art movements were dismissed as crass and amateurish.)
This ongoing evolution and the problems of modernity that are no where nearer to being solved are ripe for exploration and Garcia and Ferguson prove there is no one way to do it. Both show a gallows humor—turning the propaganda of colonialism into cheeky, surreal lampoons or taking the cheeky, surreal world of early cartoons and turning them into hallucinatory, ghoulish visions—and both do it with distinct and expert craft. It’s one-two punch to the eyes and worth checking out before it closes.
Both shows are on display through April 26 at Roq La Rue.