Haunting Snowman People reveals a sinister foreboding
Like those other fraternal couples the Starn twins and the Brothers Grimm and Quay, Ontario siblings and self-made artists Clint and Scott Griffin find inspiration in a shared childhood history. Scott, 31, and Clint, 27 — who live on the evocatively desolate sounding Scugog Island — have a remarkably symbiotic relationship, living in the same place where they grew up and exhibiting their work together, as in the Barbara Archer show of their haunting work Snowman People.
Though their artwork is stylistically distinct in many ways — Scott's metier being mottled, distressed scrap metal and blowtorch, while Clint's is paper, ballpoint pen and pencil — their work shares a similar sinister ambiance. Regardless of the medium, the Griffin beat is a world of encroaching poisonous clouds and obscure, half-seen people.
While Clint's kinetic scrawls and cultural critiques summon up conceptual heavies like Martha Rosler and the elegant doodles of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Scott is the more intuitive naif of the Griffin brothers act. Scott's simply rendered people, houses and airplanes, burned into metal via welding torch, have the stark, monotone, often disturbing element familiar to fans of self-taught artists such as Bill Traylor.
More conceptual and less spontaneous (perhaps indebted to the artist's time spent at the Ontario College of Art & Design), Clint's mixed-media works blend scribbles, cross outs and other frantic, obsessive markings with a piquant social commentary involving the transformation of home into a staging ground of violence, confrontation and major bad vibe-age. In "Between the Fridge and the Chair," kitchen appliances are pushed aside to make room for a boxing ring. And in "During the Room," dining room chairs are drawn in ballpoint while the table is formed from a malevolent cloud of blood red leaking in from an open window.
There is a recurring theme in Clint's work of disaster-laden domestic scenes, where fires and violence and a sense of no escape predominates. While Scott has spoken of having to make art from metal scraps because his family was "cheap," there are intimations of darker things than penny-pinching at work in his brother Clint's work. In "High Diving: Act One," all points of escape from an ambiguous scene of women performing for an unseen crowd are closed. A chair blocks a door, and a ladder has been scratched out with Clint's angry, frantic pencil marks, gestures which seem to force the tiny figures in the scene into confusion and turmoil. Clint's figures are drawn from TV and childhood: Power Rangers and "Star Trek" figures, wolfmen, a scrawny Santa Claus and unidentifiable folk — firemen and shaggy dogs — from central casting who spill out of the idiot box into peoples' living rooms. The work seems cynical about how dominant the media's reach has become in these occupied rooms where TV figures are a society's Id running amok.
Scott's work is less grounded in a common, media-defined culture, but it shares a foreboding, gloomy quality with his brother Clint's artworks. Though the vague, vaporous images of biplanes and people are drawn from the family vocation of bush-piloting, the work has a more universal, familiar ring, with its resemblance to the bison and hunters etched onto primordial cave walls or eerie crop circles carved into rural fields. His work inspires a similar psychological chill, a sense that we are looking at something elemental and strange, but at the same time innate and familiar. The figures, burned into metal, give the impression of a pre-existing imprint the artist has brought to the surface like some buried history or archeological find. Like other artists who work with humble materials such as stone, wood or iron, Scott has spoken of bringing to the fore something already present in the material, and the artworks indeed give that spooky impression of primeval, even pagan forces at work.
The show's title, Snowman People, refers to the fuzzy reception the boys endured as rural TV watchers. But that analogy works outside their cozy pas de deux, too. Who, after all, hasn't braved the cultural snowstorm of media images and wondered if there isn't an element of madness and horror involved?
Snowman People runs through Jan. 19 at Barbara Archer Gallery, 1123 Zonolite Road, Suite 27. Wed.-Sat. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and by appointment. 404-815-1545. www.barbaraarcher.com.??