Everyone I know has recently had a nervous breakdown—including me. It's the times, it's the age, it's the chorus of voices—in our heads and otherwise—telling us daily that everything sucks and that hope is a feeble, four-letter word. Makes you want to put on a black veil, leather corset, paint your eyes to resemble a fiendish jezebel's and dabble in a bit of Ouija, conjuring and using your teeth during your next lip-lock. Reality has become surreality, and if the light of day is just too harrowing and harsh to endure, then whisk your tortured soul via vapor or vehicle to the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art's new show, "Gothic."
Curated by Irvine Valley College assistant art history professor Amy Grimm (who had to be chosen, in part, because of her awesome name), "Gothic" is a feast for bloodthirsty eyes. It's all about the midnight hours, ominous and fallen fowl, apparitions and monsters, and deathly delicious dames.
The one vicious vixen who never leaves the exhibit, however, is Lt. Mustardseed's Stigmata Sor Juana, a 10-foot-tall sculpture of metals, fabrics and taxidermy fashioned into the most forlorn, porcelain-skinned lady to ever troll the Tower of London. Appearing as a childhood nightmare of Bloody Mary, Juana is draped in exquisite regal finery above; below, a caged abdomen contains her pulsing heart hanging from chains. A pair of bull's horns tops her head, crimson streams cascade from her eyes and hands, and it all pretty much makes her the perfect poster girl for one very bad day.
"Gothic" at Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, www.occca.org. Open Thurs. Fri.-Sat., noon-9 p.m.; Mon.-Wed., by appointment only. Through March 24. Free.
Something that would certainly ensure a very bad day is giving birth to Rosemary's baby, and Elyse Hochstadt's bronzed, hooved baby booties, Cloven, are entertaining and sly, effectively summoning images of a demonic, toddling terror that might give one pause before signing any diabolical deal with the devil—let alone accepting his Satan seed, aphrodisiatic chocolate mouse or not.
If that pact could not be avoided, of course, your family portrait might resemble The White Family, Jessica Whol's creepy-cool, found, sepia-toned photo of an atomic age family with white thread embroidered over its faces. Resembling a trio of accident victims, there's clearly some disastrous deformity lying beneath those strands, but no little pig nose can keep Ozzie and Harriet types from spurning a picturesque, GI Generation family tradition.
A merriment of other portraits of the macabre is on hand, including Kelley Hensing's Rumination, which features a ghostly, gaunt figure encumbered by a lush coiffure of beetles and bugs. Carrie Ann Baade's stunning oil, Explaining Death to a Rabbit, is awash in eerie, presenting an old master's imagining of a black-lipped, mournful mistress cradling an armful of bunnies beneath her inky Elizabethan collar. Her distant cousin might be found in Patrick Loehr's digital media composition, Portrait of a Lady (With Raven), which also emanates a 16th-century aura with its Mona Lisa-esque lass daring us to debase her bird's nest bonnet and ominous feathered friend perched atop.
Fearful fowls and a few fatalities are also in abundance: Joseph Cavalieri goes mutant with his two-headed taxidermied sparrow mounted and encased within a glass globe; Maxwell Nelson gets symbolic and dreary with Scattered Thoughts, his exceptional ink illustration of a human skull dissolving into a stream of flitting black birds. And the folklorian prophet of doom, the raven, makes appearances in Leslie Brown's stylish Convergence monoprint and Tammy Greenwood's Edgar Allan Poe-ian woodcut with verse, Welcomed Madness.
Moving into monstrosities and things that go grunt in the night, William Martinez's splendid digital painting, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, glimpses a fang-y, Victorian-era toadthing creeping about a streetlamp during a real pea-souper. Clearly, he's one fellow you wouldn't wish to meet on your gloomy night strolls, unless you were walking a mutt similar to Nancy Caster's acrylic dog-griffin, Eighth Monster, a plumed, winged horror gnawing on a human leg.
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If you were to survive that spooky excursion, you might end up sacrificing and chanting around a fire in the woods, as do the garmentless ghouls in Adam Deal's exquisitely detailed graphite-and-ink illustration, Abyssus Abyssum Invocat. It's certain the treacherous lot would eventually want a human souvenir of your initiation, of course, which, if you're lucky, might only be akin to Tradd Featherstone's smart, sleek bronzed hand and encased human radius and ulna sculpture, Reliquary I.
A host of other underworldly wonders also populates "Gothic," and submerging yourself in someone else's madness can be a balm for your beaten-down soul. If nothing else, it might give you some unorthodox ideas of how to exorcise your next case of doldrums. Just remember to be home before dawn. And hide the hatchet.
This review appeared in print as "Bleak Days, Black Nights: OCCCA's 'Gothic' invites you to drown your demons in angst-y art."