CHAPEL HILL—Chance Murray doesn’t want his paintings to creep you out.

True, the occasionally dismantled bodies and externalized organs—in the show “Chance Murray: Strange Clouds of Smoke” at the Horace Williams House in Chapel Hill through Feb. 27—might make one’s stomach twinge. But they’re so integral to visual jokes that one might only emit a chuckle, and allow the twinge to double as appetite.

And true, the borderline asemic captions and titles distributed across most paintings’ surfaces in a tipsy grid of floating lowercase letters might evoke the ransom note or serial killer communiqué more than a preschooler’s scrawled helices of letters or a message magically coalescing from an array of alphabet magnets on a refrigerator door.

But Murray’s is nonetheless a fantastic realm, almost never a threatening one. Murray’s work is, overall, strangely generous. He’s given a lot of time and labor to other artists in recent years, hosting salon shows at his barn space in Cedar Grove. His twenty-one surreal paintings, featuring thick buildups of pigment and media, are imbued with a humor not so much dark as stained.

Self-identified as an animator, many of Murray’s paintings, rather than being one-frame cartoons, serve more as a page torn from the middle of a rural gothic novel or a still taken from an underground movie’s best scene. There’s something of The Far Side in Murray’s work, but his drawing is in the R. Crumb and Philip Guston tradition, and his laughs always have a sick edge.

Many of Murray’s works are not so much composed as flung at the canvas from several feet away, and to their benefit. The chicken in “Chicken Shit” looks like it’s been splattered on the windshield, caught out of flight in an archaeopteryx sprawl, a death image formed nevertheless from the last vital pulse of life.

Murray’s kinetic excess of paint and media occasionally looks a bit self-conscious, the flings too carefully placed, but for the most part they bring to mind things spent or forgotten outside for a long time, desiccating and decaying in the elements, gradually commingling with the surfaces beneath them. These are visually fecund works, reminding one that the glisten of a lover’s eye is the same wet shine of an evisceration.

These agglomerated figures and scenes are set against flat, inert backgrounds, occasionally using a stage-like perspective. Usually there’s just a blackish ochre cloud or haze, depthless, implying no location rather than a darkened one. The players in these scenes—humans, dogs, chickens, an abbreviated opossum—are glopped and built-up upon the surface in red, black, and white, incorporating a huge variety of mixed media: sticks, hardware store adhesives, a beehive and dead bees, doll parts, pennies, and lots of paper pulp.

Probably the grandest of the works in this show is “Dog eats Lighter/Hot dog,” a two-panel cartoon painting. On the left side, a dog approaches a food bowl with a cigarette lighter in it. An arrow points from the lighter to the dog’s mouth. On the right side, the dog is aflame with guts exploding from the lighter in its belly. It’s a violent, silly painting. The queasiness of the dog’s gastrointestinal explosion combines with the frankfurter reference to perfectly frame the painting’s humor. After all, so many of us love eating hot dogs, even while cracking jokes about how mysteriously disgusting they are.

Murray’s usage of text makes for a bifurcated viewing experience. You break off from looking at the painting to try to read it. Sometimes the message is straightforward, roughly but closely following horizontal lines across the background—but sometimes it strays from linearity and breaks into an open field lettrism.

In “Untitled #3,” I was able to assemble the sentence “Dog walking meets stranger in forest” despite a few missing and extraneous letters that made me want to read the words “near,” “fear,” and “angry” as well. Vaguely figurative shapes interrupting the horizontal flow of the lettering read as the dog and the stranger, creating a subverted rebus effect. This flipping back and forth between viewing and reading establishes a distance between the actual image and what the image is of—which calibrates the darkness of dark humor.