Gallery of mysteries
Michael Bishop’s studies in contrast
On entering the cozy display room at James Snidle Fine Arts Gallery, you might get the impression that you are encountering an exhibit by two quite different (but equally appealing and interesting) artists: one a surrealist sculptor concentrating on enigmatic militaristic imagery, the other a graphic artist who utilizes manipulated photographic images overlaid with subliminal text to convey mysterious, soft-focus commentary on its subject matter.
But all the works in the intriguingly staged exhibit are by one person, Chico artist Michael Bishop.
The first piece that greets you is “Salt,” a photograph depicting a motorcyclist in the left foreground viewed from the back as he gazes across the vast, empty expanse of Utah’s salt flats to where the horizon and the softly clouded sky diffuse into one another. The image, printed with industrial inkjet on industrial felt and overlaid with a nearly imperceptible layer of calligraphic Farsi script, is soft and intriguing, inviting viewers to project their own fantasies or interpretations onto the literally wide open scene.
Between the viewer and this peaceful photo, laid out on the wooden floor as well as atop an industrial-looking display table, is “Tuff Gold,” a multipart sculptural piece made of cast bronze and fabricated steel. On the floor is a phalanx of five silvery foot-long military tanks training their cannons on the viewer and flanked by a pointing hunting dog. And on the narrow table, an open-mouthed baby gazes at five more tanks that are stacked like books.
Taken together, Bishop’s photo and sculpture create a tableau that is simultaneously—and paradoxically—ominous, tranquil and a bit humorous.
On the wall to the left of the entrance hangs another large inkjet-on-felt image, “Büyük Ada Feribot (Big Island Ferry),” a candid, very softly colored photo of the interior of a ferry occupied by a few casual-looking commuters on bench seats. What could be a rather mundane, touristy snapshot is enlivened by the inset of four nearly abstract panels showing the choppy surface of water.
In front of the picture window overlooking the gallery’s view of the street is “Real Estate,” a cast glass, cast aluminum and hot-rolled steel sculptural piece, again using tanks and a baby head on a table top as the predominant images. In this case, the tank and the random chunks of matter it faces are a dusky scarlet color, and the baby head perches behind its turret, with a small, Monopoly-evoking house balanced like a cocked hat on top of its head.
On the wall to the right and above “Real Estate,” hanging at an oblique angle, another tank-and-baby-head themed sculpture, “Tank House.” It encloses a figure within a house-shaped open framework through which the tank directs its cannon toward the tableau beneath it, in an ambiguous position of attack on or defense of the adjacent piece.
The interior wall of the exhibit is occupied by its most colorful piece, the large diptych “Dog Hand & Lipstick,” which places side-by-side photos of a hand against a blank background, one holding a hot dog, the other a lipstick tube. Unlike the more soft focus of the other graphic pieces, this one is much sharper in detail, with the creases in the skin, the zig-zag streak of mustard on the dog, and the figures etched on the lipstick tube easily discernible.
Compact in size but huge in its offering of curious images, Bishop’s exhibit is one that pays off visitors with food for thought that will retain its freshness long after one leaves the gallery.