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Undiscovered artists see light of day in Submerged

Submerged: An Investigation and Art ShowThe Submerged exhibition at Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery, which bills itself as both An Investigation and an Art Show, features 11 artists who indulge their field's reputation for stage fright to a radical degree.

As opposed to emerging artists, an introductory essay tacked to the gallery wall posits that these artists "were going in the opposite direction: submerging."

From the get-go, Submerged has a more humble, low-key attitude than your average art show. It's enough for an artist like Mark McLemore to simply revel in sequential photographs that capture a hummingbird in midflight. The pregnant allure of a moment rather than magnificent, profound gestures is a shared feature of many of these artists. A number of them convey the human, accessible nature of their art by working on a small scale or using humble materials like Jahim Baskerville's photocopy art and Derr R. Steadman's reappropriated postage stamps.

In a business packed with MFAs and career-minded artists, many of these "submerged" artists appear to have more in common with outsider or self-taught artists (though some have attended art school). They create not to recoup their investment of labor, materials or tuition, but because they must.

Submerged is about something that is easy to lose sight of in the navel-gazing art-about-art world of galleries and art fairs. The Submerged artists instead attest to how they use art as a highly pleasurable way of both living in the moment and remaining true to a fundamental core of self, uncompromised by the world's distractions and fascinations.

It's hard to see work like Sarah Dixon's and not think of creation as a defiantly personal beast. With her perky blond bob and pink lipstick, there is something common to Dixon and her oil paintings of dolls' portraits. From oddball to mildly terrifying, her creatures stare out at the viewer with a humanizing gesture that gives the work a little shove into Eerieville, rescuing it from the realm of the overly precious.

Likewise, Steve Seaberg's found object assemblages of wood and junkyard bits and pieces could be passed over as so much quirky Southern folk art if not for some wonderfully unique and sinister touches. A skeleton's body is a garden trellis, and in "Talking Skeletons," two wooden figures square off like Rock 'Em Sock 'Em robots atop a wooden table, suggesting some primitive precursor to videogame violence.

A similar sublimated (and not so sublimated) anger percolates within Steadman's mass of postcard-sized drawings, which suggest Far Side-meets-R. Crumb non sequitur punch lines. The diminutive format and cheery pastel hues are nonthreatening, but there is rage beneath Steadman's critique of a comparable fury hidden within American T-shirt and bumper sticker opinions. In one image of a T-shirt sporting the words "Proud Veteran" is the subtextual sentiment, "Mother Raping Baby Stabbing."

There is a shared quality of aesthetic simplicity on display in Steadman's and many others' works that proves one of the show's most pleasing qualities. Both charming and grim, Albino Mattioli's wisp of an animated film is a commentary on war's matter-of-fact killing machine. The brief loop, set to Mozart's "Requiem," features soldiers on one side of the world boarding a plane. They are then flown back from that distant world in cross-ornamented coffins.

Does Submerged place too much pressure on these artists to fulfill the curatorial mission of art iconoclasts operating defiantly outside Ye Olde Art Market?


Maybe these artists should be allowed to run free and wild without the bracketing of their own refusal to play the game.

But then again, maybe that's just what this show will ultimately enable.


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