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Review: St. Louis as Sin City

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 8, 2013 - St. Louisans may be dismayed to find our fair city heralded at the top of a national top 10 list of most dangerous cities. Our murder, crime and sexually transmitted disease rates garner us labels of superlative that are generally not considered all that super.

Stuck with these grim statistics, some St. Louisans have decided to revel in the city’s ill gained status, or at least laugh about it. With such blithe intent, Philip Hitchcock’s phd gallery is playing host to three artists’ interpretations of what it means for St. Louis to be the City of Sin. Leave it to artists to turn terrifying talk of very real fear into something just short of a Greek bacchanalia.

Envy, pride, sloth and general evil are not difficult to depict or to relate to. Apparently, sin is a widely attractive theme. The tiny Cherokee Street phd gallery was overflowing with curious art, city and sin enthusiasts throughout the opening night event for the exhibit.

Photographer Mark Florida’s sexy, macabre mise en scène compositions stage the seven deadly sins in a framework of mid-20th century wild west “B” cinema. With his arch portrayals of gluttony, lust and all sorts of debauchery, Florida revels in camp and irony.

Sculptor Ruth Reese continues the homage to sin with functional ceramic goblets decorated with images modeled after the seventeenth-century etchings of Jacques Callot. Callot may have intended his illustrations of the consequences of sin to be instructive. It is with tongue firmly placed in cheek, however, that Reese depicts each vice on a vessel best used in the accomplishment of such immorality.

The animal emblems of Reese and tattoo artist Josh Chapman construe sin in a less overt fashion. Both envision composite beasts as symbolic of social depravity. Reese’s surreal ceramic hybrid creatures are sci-fi fabulous. Octopus tentacles mix with elements of elk or goat, topped by the head of a self-satisfied lion. The notion that this combination of normally separate entities represents sin recalls the role of Pan in Greek mythology as a wild half man/half goat famous for his sexual powers and occasionally identified with Satan. Through a more cultural-political lens, the amalgamated animals might address taboos placed on inter-religious, inter-racial and intra-gender love.

Josh Chapman’s watercolors are similarly fantabulous. His tattoo template artworks boldly combine graphic traditions along with animal species. Chapman’s skulls, snakes and prowling tigers are even more evocative if one considers their more common appearance in his medium of choice- etched, indelibly on human skin.


Sarah Hermes Griesbach is a freelance writer.

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