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His paintings take you back to the moment when you were 17 years old and you got your first look at the sketchbook of your artistic, Goth girlfriend, the one who called herself Ravenswood Frogsbreath or something. You flipped through pages of pretty, emaciated girls with big, round heads and wide-set eyes, dressed up in Morticia Addams black with stripey tights. They gazed out at you apathetically as they played accordions in graveyards, cuddled with their equally wan twin sisters, or were menaced by fish with rows of scary teeth. Lots of Lewis Carroll stuff, a hint of Edward Gorey and a dash of Marilyn Manson. You'd look at her drawings and wonder if she was really on to something, or if, five years later, she was going to turn into some boring, blond girl who worked in a bank.
Let's put this plain: If you like Goth stuff, if your black little heart goes pitter-pat over cats and bats and rats, and you think girls with those big, Christina Ricci heads are the hottest thing ever, then you will go for Price's art like orphans go for oatmeal. If you don't like Goth stuff, well . . . I don't know, go read the Register or something. Conformist.
"Tales of Wonder and Woe," Price's new show of oils and acrylics at the Office gallery, is really your ideal, one-stop, Goth experience. It's all here, kids: the Alice in Wonderland dresses, the ratty-yet-glamorous hairstyles, the scary dollies, the vultures and the waifs with red-rimmed eyes. Seriously, Price's girls are not above busting out the stripey tights, and if you think it stopped being cute in, like, 1998, you're just fooling yourself.
One cannot say that what Price does is original, as there are scores of artists working the Goth beat these days. One cannot even say that Price's art is always technically adept; he's getting better all the time, but he's been exhibiting for about seven years, and more than a little of his work during that time has had a wobbly uncertainty to it. But for those of the Goth sensibility, Price's dark-yet-cutesy work makes for some very tasty comfort food. Pale kids in black will swoon for this stuff the same way that nice old ladies sigh over Impressionist pictures of seagulls on rocks.
You could say that Price's work is derivative or crude, that it's not aht-art, but there is some real talent and touching conviction on display here. I haven't met Price, but in his pictures, he looks a lot like Jack White, all pasty and stringy-haired and everything . . . which, for this kind of art, is probably just about exactly what you should look like. (Well, that is, if you can't manage the cranky-teenage-girl thing.) This guy walks the Goth walk as well as talking the Goth talk, and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he positively reeks of absinthe and Manic Panic. Of course, being a Goth, he probably finds few things more annoying than being called a Goth.
So, if you're the type who is gonna see this kind of stuff and get into a twist about These Kids Today, do everybody a favor and stay home. But if your blood runs black, go and soak this show up—you'll have an ooky-spooky blast. Just be sure to let your eyes wander off the canvas long enough to take in some of your fellow patrons, the fancily attired and fancifully named aspiring vampires who are the fellow members of your hapless, melanin-challenged tribe.
Once you get past their annoying sarcasm and brittle defensiveness, they are, almost invariably, very sweet people. These are folks who won't think you're weird at all for having a crush on the Corpse Bride (even though she's dead and a puppet), and they'll never laugh at you for wearing a top hat in public, in 90-degree weather, in 2007. Introduce yourself, and maybe you'll meet a new partner in despair. You can go home and spend the long hours before dawn listening to Cradle of Filth and writing sad poetry together, or some damn thing. And if Price's work, for all its minor failings, can manage to bring a few beautiful losers together . . . well, I'd call that a job well-done.
MATTHEW J. PRICE'S "TALES OF WONDER AND WOE" AT THE OFFICE—AN ART SPACE, 5122 BOLSA AVE., STE. 110, HUNTINGTON BEACH, (714) 767-5861; WWW.THEOFFICEART.COM . CALL FOR HOURS.
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