Have a few too many beers with any guy, and sooner or later, the conversation comes around to Dad.
What a great influence he was. The distance he maintained. That he joined PFLAG when you came out. How you still don’t talk to each other after he took a swing at you. That he loved you deeply. That you cried for days when he passed away.
While most of the art presented in “Father Material” isn’t likely to trigger latent abandonment issues—much of the work is not specifically about fathers—there’s plenty to make you think about a man’s place in the world and whether you’re better off than the Old Man.
Kebe Fox’s subtle mixed-media paintings suggest we’re most assuredly not, though he never directly says so. His work is eye-catching and smart, never obvious, and obfuscates playfully by using darkly comic scenarios and pretty animals to make larger points about how lost we are. To Fox, mankind is descending into an anarchy ruled by nature: The short fertility cycle of human females is depicted in all its bleak absurdism in Matron’s Descent. Bright klieg lights split the painting as a lone woman in a parachute, legs apart as if in gynecological stirrups, drops eggs from her crotch that crash-land on and off the back of a large tortoise.
Technology fails us and, like cockroaches, will be around long after us. In Raising the Bar, an eagle prepares to expectorate food into the nonexistent mouth of a tiny bar code nestled in the branches of a tree. A butterfly perches atop an old cell phone dripping dew in Lost Call.
Children disguised as ova continue to make appearances. Creepy red mists surround a vast nest as its eggs pitch themselves into the air or collect together in a pile on the ground like rocks atop a grave.
Quiet desperation is the theme of The Provider, as a hand holds a cell phone, its umbilical cord bleeding out tiny thought bubbles to an indifferent oblivion. Amid forest terrain, two feet on stilts are bound at the knees—suggesting they aren’t going to get very far—in Cold Feet. In my favorite piece of the show, Last Call, a businessman in a red power tie gets sucked into a whirlpool, his cell still glued to his ear.
Stephen Anderson’s agit-prop stylings cover a lot of subjects—from the pope and Hugh Hefner to our perceptions of what fatherhood is, based on a Google search—in a variety of mediums. Video to clothing to collage to installation, each of them aimed less at fatherhood than the male sex’s oblivious fuckery of everything it seems to come in contact with. His 2010 video, Be Macho, Man, is less than five minutes long, but the neatly edited footage of slam-dancing, erectile dysfunction commercials, statistics on violence against women, trains going into tunnels and bombs dropping from planes as a narrator intones on the subject of love does its trick simply—while evoking a smile.
A series of pop-up collages on hand-cut wood—many in the primitive form of a cross—addresses various social questions: In Live Beautifully, pills are part of the solution to one’s fucked-up biology. Routine brutality is dissected in The Battle, with anxiety and depression lying behind camp exclamations of violent action taken from comics, a cop holding a tear-gas gun presiding over all.
You can even wear some of Anderson’s art: Labeled is 24 T-shirts pinned to a clothesline, each adorned with a single word describing “father,” solicited by the artist from his friends and family. Samples include words that every dysfunctional clan will understand immediately: “detached.” “hero,” “cokehead” and “macho,” to name a few.
After Fox and Anderson, you can skip out on the facile remainder and not miss a thing: Richard Towle’s gaudy oil paintings of famous/infamous father figures suggest Warhol, but Warhol executed the idea better, so the less said about these works the better. I would have appreciated something more complex than Towle’s jumbo-sized paintings of male nudes gripping hard-ons, hidden away in the final room of the gallery. While I’m always happy to see gay men and our sex lives represented, isn’t the porn aesthetic just tired?
The pictures aren’t sexy, and slapping titles on them such as Daddy 1 or Daddy 3 adds little to the conversation, other than embracing the stereotype that queers have unresolved Daddy issues and are stuck in some primal stage in which we can’t think past our dicks. The large bowl in the center of the gallery with three large bananas resting inside carries more metaphorical weight than anything on display from Towle’s oeuvre.
“Father Material” at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, 117 N. Sycamore St., Santa Ana, (714) 667-1517; www.occca.org. Open Thurs. & Sun., noon- 5 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., noon-9 p.m. Through Feb. 27. Free.
This review appeared in print as “Daddy Issues: ‘Father Material’ at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art mostly offers surreal, thought-provoking insights into maleness. Mostly.”
Dave Barton has written for the OC Weekly for over twenty years, the last eight as their lead art critic. He has interviewed artists from punk rock photographer Edward Colver to monologist Mike Daisey, playwright Joe Penhall to culture jammer Ron English.