Ringling Brothers: Ring leaders

Artists show a shared philosophy and school

Steven Dixey's "Nemesis, Goddess of Divine Retribution," on view at Beep Beep Gallery, would be easy to misread. The small, acrylic painting depicts the multiarmed goddess clutching instruments of justice and punishment: a cat o' nine tails, a sword, a set of balance scales. Shadowed in deep chiaroscuro, she spreads her dark wings under an ominous sky as she tramples on a surprised unfortunate — Dixey's self-portrait — who flails uselessly at the empty air.

But don't be misled. In ancient lore, Nemesis doesn't just settle personal scores. She sets the cosmic scales right by socking it to history's winners and golden children.

If Dixey and the other five artists in Beep Beep's Ringling Brothers exhibit share anything beyond the alma mater Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Fla., it's a percolating anti-establishment ethos. Like Nemesis, they don't mind tripping up a few art-world high horses, and wearing their lowbrow influences – tattoo art, pop illustration, graphic design – on their collective sleeve.

Sat Kirpal Khalsa mines both his youth in Puerto Rico and his devotion to a bicycle lifestyle to create countercultural icons with India ink. An old Ford pickup truck's "American Made" label has been altered to read "Latino American Modified" – also the drawing's title. Chromed-out lettering spells "Born 2 Roll" in "F.V.K. the Latino Party." Khalsa imbues each piece with just a touch of lo-fi awkwardness, leaving erasures visible and lines unresolved. The raw impulse matters here rather than the niceties of art.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Matt Relkin meticulously works the surfaces of his paintings and drawings with mathematical precision. His images of absurd rainbows in black skies are concentrated augurs that all is not well. Doom and hope are simultaneous and permanent features of the landscape.

Atlanta has no shortage of hipster group shows bursting forth from hipster galleries. What's new, however, is that the underground aesthetics of lowbrow, decorative and pop expressionism once located squarely outside of the fine art education system, appear to have fully infiltrated it. A half generation ago, a motley crew of graf writers and skateboarders could barely spell BFA. Ringling Brothers shows that a new generation's redefining what such alphabet soup means.


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