Culture » Visual Arts

Deconstruction zone

Slow down the latest PPCC exhibit is worth a look (or two)

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Up Down Spacesaver Bubblehead Displacement Test, a - wood sculpture by the always amazing Sean OMeallie.
  • Up Down Spacesaver Bubblehead Displacement Test, a wood sculpture by the always amazing Sean OMeallie.

It's hard to hide in plain sight in the middle of downtown, but Pikes Peak Community College's Downtown Studio, on West Pikes Peak Avenue just across from Antlers Park, manages it.

Around noon on a sunny Friday, there are a dozen parking spaces within yards of the building, no pedestrians on the street, and virtually no one in the building. And that's too bad, because the gallery's current exhibit, What's My Code? is one of the best small shows in years.

All three featured artists are professors: Sean O'Meallie at UCCS, and Michael Di Biase and Janet Alexander at PPCC. And all of them could, I suppose, be called post-modernists, since their work demands a certain amount of deconstruction.

As Alexander explains in her artist's statement, when an artist appropriates common objects or images and uses them in her work, they mean one thing to her and maybe something entirely different to you. So you have to deconstruct the work, look at its components and figure out its "code."

O'Meallie, whose witty, trompe l'oeil sculptures are familiar to many longtime Springs residents, says he has no code: "I'm at play in the playground of my own head."

His "Up Down Spacesaver Bubblehead Displacement Test" appears to be a black-and-white striped balloon, fully inflated, bobbing gently against a post. But it actually is carved and painted wood, so perfectly rendered that the eye refuses to believe it's not a rubber balloon. "The Book with the Potato" is just as real and just as disorienting.

Di Biase, a graphic arts professor, works at the triple interface between art, propaganda and advertising. "The illusion of legitimacy that typography wields has fascinated me for a long time," he says. His work slick, large-scale, hard-edged, realistic recalls nothing as much as advertising spreads in '50s magazines.

"Mercury Rising," a carefully rendered sailfish emerging from an idealized sea, is just a frothy, fun confection until you decipher the gigantic, ghostly characters barely visible in the background: CH3Hg+, the chemical formula for monomethyl mercury. The sailfish, at the top of the ocean's food chain, concentrates that devastatingly toxic substance in its flesh.

"American Muscle," a '40s-style mock magazine cover featuring an impossibly rugged and muscular he-man, is shiny and disquieting. Beneath Mr. Muscles is a sardonic quote: "Weakness is a crime don't be a criminal."

In her rich, wildly diverse and altogether engaging work, Alexander seems to say, "Delight in the joyous presentation of my creative disasters!" They're hardly disastrous, however; each work is just so dense and festive, it takes a while to figure it out. "Mythological Couture," for example, features the Vatican Motorcycle Jacket and the Bodhisattva Gym Bag, as cool and funny as their monikers.

Pay careful attention to the "Sippola Series," a dozen paintings inspired by the journey of the soul from death to rebirth, when ego-driven illusion is cast aside. And what illusions are specific to a female artist in middle age? Look at Alexander's titles: "Barbie Extraction," "Awakened by a Handsome Prince" and "Romantic Fulfillment." The paintings are witty, complex and technically superb.

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What's My Code?

Pikes Peak Community College Downtown Studio Gallery,

100 W. Pikes Peak Ave.

Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Through April 15.

Free; for more info, call 527-6001.

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