Art Dorks: Meagan Ridley, Brendan Danielsson, Jason Murphy and Katie Ridley
Through Aug. 5

Before I jump into my art review, I have to tell you that Miel Bon Bons is now open in the Carr Mill Mall in Carrboro, and it’s a beautiful thing. No, they didn’t pay me to write that. Here’s the scoop: They make their own pastries and chocolatesthat’s right, they make their own pastries and chocolates, which happen to be divine and exotic with ingredients like cardamom and whiskey. Suitably fortified with a sugar and coffee buzz, you can float down the hall to Wootini, where a few members of Art Dorks, an art collective centered in Atlanta, are represented in a show that has many tasty treats of its own.

Meagan Ridley‘s small paintings feel indebted to the narrative photographic self-portraits of Cindy Sherman. Ridley’s painstakingly rendered oils set forth stylized images of the artist or her sister (fellow artist Katie Ridley) in poses that at least loosely quote paintings from specific art-historical periods. “It’s the Little Things” features a bare-breasted Ridley staring off to one side in a pose that seem to share DNA with the contorted bodies of Egon Schiele, set against an abstract patterned environment of floating egg shapes that could be lifted from Gustav Klimt. “Hey Stupid” can be read as a literalized version of Modigliani’s simplified character studies. Ridley goes for unflattering, strange facial expressions in her subjects. The character in “Hey Stupid” registers a glazed, complex look that could read variously as vacant hostility, vague disgust or woeful ennui. Ridley’s paintings go beyond portraiturethey are studies in shifting identities, exercises in artifice. “Untitled” frames a half-naked figure against a field of glowing orange. Ridley delivers unflinching depictions of her subjects, here carefully shaping the character’s knobby knees, her fleshy folds. The hands of Ridley’s subjects are particularly satisfying to behold, conveyed with anatomical and technical precision, gnarled conduits of personality and temperament.

The figure in Brendan Danielsson‘s “Oops” (one of several virtuosic pencil drawings) embodies an extreme androgyny. A massive sheath of black hair frames her form (although, paradoxically, it flows from a balding pate). Her face radiates a fierce, disturbed expression. One naked breast juts out of her dress, away from her body, the result of some sort of freak wardrobe malfunction masterminded by the artist’s unconscious. The figure sports disproportionately tiny hands and slits in her paper-white skin that, martyr-like, shed dark droplets of blood. Impossibly fine hairs float around the head of the character in “Pearl Necklace,” suggesting high levels of electro-static energy. The overgrown hairs on her arms communicate a visceral tactility, and her breasts almost burst through the fine fabric of her garment. Both the body hair and the bulging, practically autonomous breasts that replay again and again in these drawings suggest an obsessional fixation, reminiscent of the fetishistic impulses that fuel R. Crumb’s female forms. Also on view (behind a curtain of dark red velvet, upon request) are even more extreme versions of Danielsson’s shadowy eroticism. “Barbarella” is Danielsson’s fearsome super-heroine, a bare-breasted femme fatale, replete with an anatomically graphic phallic gun, obligatory body hair and absurdly articulated crotch. “Hello, Friend” features a hirsute, naked female posed in a semi-squat, defecating an anthropomorphic upside down turd. Danielsson’s unrepressed imagery emerges as an unholy fusion of comix culture, porn and classical figurative art.

The fact that Jason Murphy‘s works look like paintings but are actually collages built of painted imagistic fragments is a key element of his project. The majority of his works on view are small-scale compositions with centrally placed topographical entities, cross-sections of mountains and other geological formations that float in space. The collage aspect is foundational, because the images don’t merely generate the surreal illusion of existing isolated in spacethey literally are floating in the pictorial space. Each fraction or part of these compositions is a discrete puzzle piece, which gives these works a literal dimensionality that no single painted surface could achieve. This makes all the difference. Each iteration of Murphy’s series includes the images of wooden structures, fences or platforms, or at least loose planks of wood. In each case the landscape has been altered for various mysterious purposes. “make black”a title that intriguingly echoes another print on view, “make black (snake)”sets forth an odd scenario of three holes drilled into a mountain ridge, each of which is filled with a primary color that drains into some kind of irrigation system leading to a lower pool that captures the resultant mixture, an accumulation of black from red, yellow and blue. Another rock formation in “job site” is a minimal configuration of rough gray rock covered with patches of snow, with three planks of wood spread out on a snow bank. These are scintillating conceptions, rendered with restraint and simplicity. Murphy’s lack of overt explanation fuels simultaneous anxiety and euphoria.

Katie Ridley pursues a repetitive iconography in hand-painted screen prints and mixed-media works, many of which prominently feature a horse head. Ridley also works with bird imagery, and in one instance a cowboy. Ridley displays a certain sensitivity to textures and colors, but the presentation feels unresolved and even somewhat random. “Small Horse Head,” perhaps the most realized of these works, frames a horse head against a black enamel surface. A strip of translucent aqua blue serves as a base for the figure, underneath which hand-drawn water drops fall. Some etched scribbled lines off to the left create a bit of gestural tension. There’s a casual quality to Ridley’s Wootini presentation. It vaguely hints at an obsessional process, and yet there’s not enough cumulative repetition to support that possibility. These works feel more like design studies or illustrations than full-blown works of art. They’re visually satisfying, but they only go so far.

Having savored the Art Dorks’ delectable offerings, it might be time to head back down to Miel Bon Bons for just one more truffle or petit gateau. Wootini and chocolatecomplementary confections.