'Into the Void,' 'Nocturne' Are Scary Enough to Keep You in the Womb

Exhibited in the back of the Marcas Gallery like some rowdy Id hidden from view is San Clemente artist Michael Page's exhibition “Into the Void.” An uneasy blend of the carnal and the bloodthirsty, it represents the journey from birth to death with just a handful of canvases.

Page begins with natal trauma in A Walk Through Life, a blood-red birth canal dumping a barely recognizable figure into an oppressive plum nightmare of dicks and fluffy humanoid shapes. Less overtly weird but equally sexual, is Purple Flow, with dim violaceous limbs twisting in an orgiastic darkness while an iridescent rope of splooge bursts and drips across the canvas. The exhibition's titular painting is one of Page's larger acrylic-and-oil canvases, a dizzying fuckfest of squirting female thighs and color splashing about in airborne globs of Crayola-rainbow ejaculate. The women pictured seem to be giddy Furies messing about with the severed, empty heads of several men, their phallic, disembodied arms emptying themselves onto the women's faces, coating breasts and hair, while muddying the moody, dark green koi pond they reside by.

War seems to be the theme of Pa Sapa 1874, but there's still a smattering of sex involved. I was struck with admiration for Page's wicked imagination as well as his prickly, charged vision: Recalling Picasso's Guernica and Dali's goopy watch canvases, the painting is a turbulent collection of blurry-faced creatures sitting on the backs of charging horses that are erupting with vaginal blooms that resemble clitoral wounds. Surrounded by a Dune-ish wave of advancing, uncircumcised worms, one gently waters an injured blossom with a stream of white liquid as a counterpoint to impending tragedy. The putrefying face in Void reminds one of any number of denizens lurching through The Walking Dead, mouth in rictus, the translucency of the rotting skin aided by the clear coat on the surface of the picture, its streaks and dabs of paint throughout giving us the appearance of something lurking and slithering underneath.

The far-more-serene oil-on-wood panels of San Diego artist Kevin W. Peterson fills the main gallery. “Nocturne” is less neurotic or as overtly provocative as Page's exhibit; Peterson's semi-grisaille nightscape canvases—all black, white and lots of gray in a dusky-blue tinge—are depictions of the monsters that rule our sleep. Often so large they block out parts of an otherwise starry night, the pagan gods in Peterson's work tower above the church steeples and urban settings of their environments, running the gamut of unearthly visages. One resembles a flayed side of beef, its bat-eared devil skull set with glowing dead orbs (Carve); another resembles Jake the dog from Adventure Time, if the skin had been ripped from his face (Parasomnia).

Sciamachy's very vivid shadow enemy towers above the trees, stone face and snaggle-toothed maw partially obscured by clouds, reminiscent of the cannibalistic humanoids in Attack On Titan; likewise, the full-breasted Greek goddess attached to a caped skull, her face obscured by a niqab that looks like a ravenous mouth (Nyx in the Gloaming). In The Bringer, the monster seems more familiar to us yet still off-kilter: a Brachiosaurus body with the hindquarters of a deformed horse and no head at the end of its long stalk of neck. In Quelling the Tempest, an impish devil's head pops out of a ruptured, snake-like body, balanced by muscular webbed feet; it's any number of sea serpents sketched on old maps that told us the world was flat, or a hellish reject from the final panel of Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights. Peterson's Möbius-inspired Apnea is a robotic head, exposed machinery around the jawline, clouds of smoke issuing from its temple, the spotty planetary surface draped over its shoulder, suggesting a sleep state somewhere between REM and the calm of the grave.

It's the largest and the two smaller pieces that I connected with most: The 28-inch-by-52-inch piece that shares the show's title is essentially indescribable, aside from the tattered flags, misshapen skull-faced rabbit with a knife in its head, a ghostly sleigh that resembles a merry-go-round seat and a man in the moon with a tree branch growing out of the side of his head. I have no idea what it means, but it's stunning, even without my understanding. Peterson's smaller pieces are even more dazzling: The dream-like image of Soak is a hooded druid just above a waterline, a symbol for the unconscious, the impure aqua pura full of skulls and stylized vegetation. In the smallest painting of the show, the 4-inch-by-4-inch Homesick, an extra from The Devil's Rain is melting, his skin stretching and encircling his head like Saturn's rings. His cape, starting to fray around the edges, drapes and encloses a small home. Cocked at an angle inside the artist's handmade picture frame, it's a mini masterpiece of morbid detail.

“Into the Void” and “Nocturne” at Marcas Gallery, 305 E. Fourth St., Ste. 103, Santa Ana, (714) 760-4637; www.marcasgallery.com. Open Wed.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 2-9 p.m.; Sun., noon- 6 p.m. Through Sun. Free.

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