Mahers Misanthropy

Photo by Jack GouldIt must be hard living in Texas. The men there wear a lot of cologne, and then there's having to live among the people who elected George W. Bush their governor. You know, those who kill themselves while cleaning loaded guns or using a match to see if the gas can's empty.

Watercolorist Georgia Maher, a denizen of Denton, Texas, thinks that's hilarious—right up there with the comedy that ensued when it was revealed that the cult of religious/sci-fi/New Agers who dubbed themselves Heaven's Gaters all wore Nikes for the long journey to Remulon V.

There's no mistaking Maher's misanthropy: the painting of the terminally stupid man, his cigarettes rolled in his T-shirt sleeve, who eyes the barrel of his loaded shotgun in his last moments is titled Evolution in Action. It'd be like the Three Stooges, if Moe wielded a garrote instead of a pointy index finger.

I don't expect everyone to be a bluebird of happiness. But I do think calling for people's deaths and then dancing on their graves is a bit unkind—God only knows what Joe Lieberman, our current moral schoolmarm now that Dr. Laura's star is fading, would say about it! And doing so probably says more about Maher than it does about the pathetic buffoons she means to degrade. While it'd probably be a blast to watch Titans with Maher (it's coming this fall to the WB!), there's a lot eating at her. She entertains revenge fantasies that include horrible dismemberment, when most of us would just as happily see justice done by showing up at the high school reunion with a handsome husband and a groovy job. When her video Artist/Executioner shows her mugging her way through target practice with posters of the Teletubbies (she's a hell of a shot; she gets them all in the groin), she isn't being cleverer or more aesthetically discriminating than the unwashed Teletubby-loving masses. She's just showing—inadvertently—that her neck is every bit as red as the rednecks she loves to decapitate.

I'm certainly not calling for the Nice Police to descend upon Long Beach's Artscape. Besides candidly depicting her feelings, Maher's works are a lot of fun. She's the baddest of the grisly girls—as fatalistic as Byron, but with people eating brains. Watercolors aren't just for petunias anymore. Her fantasy portraits of Teller are suavely evil. (He's the silent magician partner to the garrulous Penn, and these paintings are culled from his collection.) Would he be enjoying a nice glass of Chianti with his fava beans and brains? Her The Future of Mime shows a pudgy budget Marceau drinking rum from a bottle and picking his toes, a smoke dangling from his rubbery lips. Maher doesn't realize he's actually pretty sexy; maybe it's that knowing smile.

Maher wields her brushes exquisitely, even hyperrealistically. It's the kind of superrealism employed by our hometown hero F. Scott Hess, the kind that shines the spotlight brightly into her subjects' gaping pores. Half Empty or Half Full (the gas-can-and-match tragedy) uses white planes to form a man's monstrous cheekbones on a background that's as velvety-black as a Vermeer. It's a smart little painting—or rather a clever little title and a beautiful painting that doesn't so much chip as pound away at native American optimism, at our populist faith in the People. It doesn't much matter whether the gas can is half-full or half-empty, just whether you've got a match in your hand —as Maher's subject does. The thing in Maher's hand appears to be a watercolorist's brush. But it could be a gun.

“Infect Your Eyes” at Artscape, 2226 E. 4th St., Long Beach, (562) 434-3224. Call for hours. Through Nov. 12.

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