Trick-or-Treat, Bitter and Sweet
This Halloween, the ARTery throbs—and something’s thumping in the Box
Kids don’t trick-or-treat much anymore, and Halloween has become more of an excuse for adults to dress up in slutty costumes and get bombed—which is exactly as it should be, really. All this stuff with little vampires and Ninja Turtles going door-to-door begging for fun-size Snickers was just an American perversion of what Halloween was meant to be. Halloween has its roots in the pagan festival of Samhain, an annual rite to mark the end of the harvest and the onset of the cold, hungry season. People believed that the barrier between the living and the dead broke down on Oct. 31, so they would put on masks, set fire to stuff, slaughter animals and dance all night to placate the restless spirits. So come Friday night, when you’re dressed in a French-maid outfit and puking in the gutter, know that you’re part of an ancient, noble tradition.
This year, two Costa Mesa galleries are presenting Halloween-themed group shows at which artists offer up some tricks and treats for grownups. “Blood Work,” the exhibit at the Lab’s ARTery Gallery, is the more impressive of the two, with nearly 20 artists crowding the walls with their disturbed imaginings. But the Box Gallery’s “Penumbra,” while only featuring three artists, boasts its own share of icky, sticky delights.
“Blood Work” offers a dizzying profusion of styles, from the cartoony, lunchbox-ready cuteness of Ali Sabet to the dark, detailed, wonderfully twisted work of Kristen Ferrell. If there’s a surprise here, it’s that a lot of the pieces in this show are so . . . well, girly, for lack of a better word. It’s not like boys have a monopoly on monsters or anything, but you don’t go into a Halloween show expecting quite this much estrogen. Artists such as Aileen Holmes and Natasha Buruato have a determinedly femme and childlike sensibility, while Kendra Binney’s characters are such vulnerable little nothings they look like Caspar the Friendly Ghost could beat them up with one wispy arm tied behind his back. This is not to suggest, however, that the show has no bite; Brooke Kent and Ferrell are both ladies you wouldn’t want to tangle with in a dark alley, and Jeff McMillan butches things up with the welcome return of the white-furred, horned gorillas that are ubiquitous in his work. (I’m guessing that when McMillan was a kid, he was traumatized by the deadly mugato from the original Star Trek.)
There are a few would-be Frankensteins here who never quite manage to bring their monsters to life. Sam Oak, for instance, introduces himself as an artist, author, composer, producer and musician, but based on the evidence in this show, I’m afraid I have to go for the obvious (if mean) play on words and suggest that he probably shouldn’t quit four of his five day jobs. But even if some of the individual contributors to “Blood Work” don’t look so hot, you’re overwhelmed by the show as a whole and the sheer number of colorful, ghoulish sights. The exhibition only runs until Nov. 9, so be sure to make it over there before midnight this Saturday (Dia de los Muertos!), or you’ll make the spirits angry.
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After you’re done with “Blood Work,” flutter into the night sky on your little bat wings and make your way a few blocks over to the “Penumbra” show at the Box Gallery. Matthew Price is back with his waifish, big-headed girls. (Seriously, this guy turns up in local shows more often than some of us remember to floss our teeth.) This time, he’s brought along the Night Gallery’s own Goth ceramicist Robert Brown, as well as Mickey Edtinger (a.k.a. Mikey ME), a transplanted Austrian who paints his flowery yet disturbing visions in shades of brain green, mucus yellow, dried-blood brown and crow’s-feather black. Brown’s such a pro he’s proven that he can even make a teapot look sinister, while Price and Edtinger have something of the gawky charm of teenagers filling their looseleaf notebooks with page after page of horrible little things.
The show runs through Dec. 13, so you’ll have time to swing by and get a jolt of evil energy when you need a break from all the gooey, false cheer of Christmastime. Christmas is when we try to act like the decent souls we wish we could be; Halloween’s the time when we get to act like the monsters we know we really are.
“Blood Work” at the ARTery Gallery at the Lab, 2930 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 966-6660; www.sobeca.net. Call for hours. Through Nov. 9; “Penumbra” at the Box Gallery, 765 Saint Clair St., Ste. B, Costa Mesa, (714) 724-4633; www.boxboxbox.com. Call for hours. Through Dec. 13.