Electric Mayhem
Flanders 311
Through May 30

The notion that opposites attract came to mind while considering a compelling pair of exhibitions on view in Raleigh galleries this month. Electric Mayhem at Flanders 311 features three artists each exploring quite disparate paths and media.

Brian Chang produces sumptuous graphite drawings steeped in Surrealism. Chang’s considerable expertise with the pencil gives his work visual fascination, and it is easy to become enthralled with his technical expertise and superb draftsmanship alone. An additional allure of his work is the seductive juxtapositions of stunningly rendered portraits and figures often set in precarious and bizarre circumstance alongside ever hovering fantastical creatures.

In Choose Your Own Installation, Lauren Turner has revived the interactive notion of self-chosen story endings as embodied in the Choose Your Own Adventure books from the 1980s. She has mounted individually numbered, cut-and-paste collages connected by an intricate overhead lattice of multi-colored yarn. Viewers are invited (Felix Gonzalez-Torres style) to join in by using the supplied yarn to connect the dots, as it were, between the various collage panels in support of their own chosen narrative. Turner’s collages feature characters including various Muppets, fairy tale heroines and superheroes engaged in peculiar dilemmas and often strife-ridden discussions.

Derek Toomes utilizes a graffiti aesthetic paired in this case with notions of desire and the voyeuristic gaze. A member of the Parail Creative Studios collaborative, Toomes displays a wall-mounted grid of small intimate works, each just a few inches square and evocatively layered. Fragments of vintage pinup/ soft-core porn imagery and historical newsprint images are composed in Pepto-pink color overlaid with bold blocky text consisting of various phrases and fragments in Spanish: todo (all), amar (to love), placer (pleasure), mirar (to look). Toomes’ work echoes notions of populism, hip-hop, Latino culture and desire, all in a style owing as much to graphic design as street art.

The show is lively and full of energy though it suffers from the same malaise that afflicts many biennials: works so disparate from one another that in and of themselves they have difficulty in supporting a consistent theme. The show’s organizers have attempted to counter this by offering it up as a sort of variety show dialectic. If approached with such broad stylistic leeway in mind, Electric Mayhem affords virtuosic draftsmanship, interactive wittiness and persuasive street smarts all in one.

Fables and Fantasy
Adam Cave Fine Art
Through May 26

The prints of John D. Gall on view at Adam Cave Fine Art through May 26 conversely are so visually cohesive as to seem inseparable. This is despite the fact that the artist has deployed a variety of media including intaglio, pen and ink, watercolor, and woodcut. In fact it is Gall’s aim to pursue a profound sense of storytelling in his work, and his overarching narrative qualities are inescapable.

Rendered in golden hues that evoke the feeling of aged prints and antique parchments, the works explore such left-brain concepts as mathematics, engineering and alphabetic letters. Gall’s prints are populated by a cast of characters (usually bald and mustachioed middle-aged men bearing more than a little family resemblance to one another) engaged in all sorts of construction and investigative busy-work activities. Simple machines like levers, pulleys and scales are put to use along with a variety of scaffolding and rigging devices. Notably, the words “seeker” and “knowledge” recur frequently, attached to all but a handful of works. Mythical places such as Babel are presented (although most of the settings are more ambiguous) along with anatomical and scientific diagrams that appear like pages seemingly torn out of Leonardo’s sketchbook.

The quirkiness of the bald characters and their metaphorical pursuits of information and understanding convey an animated feeling of challenging concepts. Much like the graphic symbols of mathematics and language he employs in his work, Gall’s prints tackle some heavy subjects while nimbly navigating a sense of timelessness within our humanity.