Kitsch on quaaludes

Poodle power rules in Holiday Melt at Solomon Projects

Looking at David Humphrey's melting, morphing poodles, Christmas trees and ice cream cones is like waking up from a drug-induced nap in a 13-year-old girl's bedroom circa 1972.

The merry citrus color scheme of tangerines, key lime greens and Pledge yellows are an instant flashback to an Americana of Ice Storm vintage, when bleary-eyed daddies shaved surrounded by bathroom wallpaper flocked in hallucinogenic Spanish olive patterns and collecting porcelain poodle curios might have been considered socially acceptable behavior.

Mixing found objects, paintings and some freaked-out sculpture, New York artist DavidHumphrey's show titled Holiday Melt uses the word "melt" as in meltdown --- both mental and literal. His daffy Christmas trees have gone as gooey as yesterday's Sno-Cone and the totems of sunny, yummy, odor-free kitsch buckle under the weight of our consumer expectations.

The nearly 6-foot-tall ice cream parfait "3 Scoops" (executed in globs of yellow, green and pink) that greets viewers in the Solomon Projects window is only a small sampling of the goofy madness to come in a show that manages to be at once amusing, lighthearted and dark around the edges.

Rounding the corner from this innocuous cone is a room that seems to have been taken over by Santa's elves ... if those elves were the demented proteges of Philip Guston, Jeff Koons and some warped renegade from the Rankin/Bass studios.

Humphrey carves his large yummy-colored, pleasure-engorged sculptures from foam, hydrocal and paper pulp, but what the material often suggests is the more pedestrian form of papier-mache. The artist seems to be striving for a comparably craftsy, loopy, childish element to add a dimension of purposeful naivete to his interpretation of Cute Gone Wrong.

Humphrey's palette of pastel dessert colors also shows some of the strain involved in selling perfect Christmases, manicured dogs that never crap and ice cream that stays creamily upright. The too perfect color scheme summons up the familiar experience of things never tasting as good as they look.

"Guardian Poodle" sets the surreal tone in the interior room of the gallery dominated by large sculptures. At an impressive 78 inches high, the gigantic elongated poodle lords over events like the most perpetually obedient of pups and has some of the creepy presence of Paul McCarthy's work, with a vaguely sexual business going on about its rear quarters. Also featured in this bad trip fantasyland is "Snow Covered Tree," a cartoon evergreen that looks formed from mint icing left in the sun too long, and "Poodle Melt," in which a yellow ice cream-like substance drips into a puddle while a bevy of porcelain poodles ride out the confectionery Holocaust on its top.

But the most striking pooch in this panoply of yippy-dogs has to be the absurd mix of Christmas and puppies collapsed into one deformed creation, called simply "Poodle." Like a child who wants all the good stuff together — the sprinkles, the cherries, the butterscotch, the whipped topping — then heaves it up in the corner of Baskin-Robbins, "Poodle" is an orgy of happiness gone terribly, terribly wrong. A cutout, vaguely poodle-ish in form and executed on plywood, has been rolled out into the gallery on wheels and decorated with a crudely painted Christmas tree. At the top is a ceramic poodle head where the star at tree tip-top might go. Intensifying this life-out-of-balance mood, Humphrey has decorated the hidden, bare plywood side of the poodle with colorful Christmas tree lights. This subliminal decorating device is repeated in another cartoonish cut-out sculpture of a "Snow Pile," which Humphrey has ornamented with images of the artist's name pissed in snow, kitschy wintertime scenes and other abstractions of a less than perfect pile.

The mutated forms of Humphrey's works serve to spell out the mutations of kitsch, with its pathetic urge to convey sentiment, sweetness, cuteness, cuddliness and yumminess via kitties, forlorn children and clowns bearing daisies. Humphrey has tapped into the nightmare aspect of that kitsch impulse, and his melting, dripping forms suggest objects unable to withstand the power of their own iconography and collapsing into a gooey, sticky mess.

The idea of melting referenced again and again in the show suggests an element of disillusionment when all the fun goes out of the illusion and Santa is revealed as just another fat man in a red suit.

Holiday Melt runs through March 30 at Solomon Projects, 1037 Monroe Drive. Tues.-Sat. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. 404-875-7100.??