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Review: 'Nervous Laughter' touches a nerve

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 17, 2008 - For Nervous Laughter at the Philip Hitchcock Gallery, Leslie Holt has curated a large group of works guaranteed to touch a nerve somewhere, depending on your personal proclivities, religion, politics or the line you draw between public information and private sensibilities. Holt, one of St. Louis' most prolific and savvy painters, never goes overboard with this show; but these works do bump up against those boundaries of decorum that Hitchcock himself is fond of pushing.

All the works are visually delectable; it's when you let them sink in that they get a little weird. Jason Hoeing's tantalizing maps of the Middle East are rendered in candy colored nail polish; he's so adept with the medium, he ought to take out a copyright. Smaller snapshot-sized images in nail polish, such as "Christmas Morning" and "Lying Down, Tied and Stripped," are ambiguous scenes of social interactions; they're pretty but somehow uncomfortable.

Greg Wiest, a Catholic priest, paints some of the bubbliest images of heresy ever seen, including pictures of Dylan and Jesus together and a to-die-for painting of Janet Leigh, screaming, juxtaposed with Pope John Paul; Francis Bacon would be proud.

Mel Dean's surreal, airborne still lifes of convicted killers' last meals are something to behold. And whatever your position on motherhood, you won't fail to be moved by Jessica Plattner's strange, sad self-portraits with, and without, "child."

Finally there's Phil Robinson, a true gem among St. Louis sculptors and provocateur par excellence. His "Jungle Bunnies," "Niggy Banks" and "Authentic Imitation Negro Heads" are jaw-droppingly funny and affordably priced. Indeed, all the works are for sale, and most are in reach of the middle- and low-end collector. So say a few Hail Marys for forgiveness and pick up some art. You won't regret it.

Ivy Cooper is an artist and professor of art history at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. 

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