She poured and squished animal guts, and sat with carcasses, to help out her teacher in Frankfurt, Germany. It was different than taking classes at state schools in Colorado and Illinois, but Micki Tschur says studying under (and performing in installations by) famed Viennese Actionist Hermann Nitsch at the Städelschule actually wasn't that outrageous.
Mostly, she says, the teacher's projects were just dirty work. The actors wore white suits and showered immediately afterward. "It's not as occultist as it looks," says Tschur, a 43-year-old German-born artist who grew up in Colorado and now resides here again.
Nitsch's work was about excess and awakening the senses. And while Tschur doesn't go to such extremes in her own work, her oil paintings at Rubbish Gallery, in a collection called Hard Times, do contain an overload of imagery and potential focal points.
"It's a visual language where you make associations with the images," she says, noting that they carry "a certain symbolic language."
Take Chewbacca, for example. Tschur, careful to point out that she's not a Star Wars fanatic, says he represents heroism and good. In her painting, "Interview," George Lucas' famous Wookiee sits on a yellow cushioned chair holding a paper Oprah mask. Next to him, a lap dog that resembles him sits on a desk, under which a bright green, path-divided forest grows. Tile flooring melts away in the foreground while a UFO hovers in the sky above a black ocean that spills out to a blue-skied horizon.
The captivating, colorful and surreal scene teems with popular culture images, and some of the symbolism goes beyond what Tschur even intended.
"It's this silly little thing going on, but what's strange [now] is that I painted the ocean in the background black," says Tschur. Even though she finished this piece before the Gulf oil spill, associations "inadvertently come up," she says. It's as if Chewbacca and his mini-me are "in an interview about the catastrophe."
That coincidence aside, other interpretations can easily be found and argued.
"I think there's always a message or a viewpoint in there, but I'm not doing a series of paintings that's all about a certain thing, I don't want to be so direct about things," says Tschur, noting that some of her work is just random associations of images she finds humorous, weird or ridiculous.
Though Hard Times' overwhelmingly odd imagery subtly reflects "the general feeling of what's going on in the contemporary world," Tschur says having playful images juxtaposed with heavy ones make the symbolism bittersweet. To her, mixing the disheartening with the fun — heavy black lines with familiar, colorful characters — "is just a way of putting things into perspective and not getting too lost in depressing thoughts."
Guess that's one lesson working with animal innards will teach you.