Drawing a chuckle

An exhibit at UNR features works that are designed to make people laugh

“Roach Hunt/ Mother and Child Murderers” by Mick Sheldon.

“Roach Hunt/ Mother and Child Murderers” by Mick Sheldon.

Photo By David Robert

The oil painting is by Jim Albertson, and it’s called “Early Work.” It depicts a precocious, blonde, blue-eyed baby girl wearing a beret. She’s sitting on a changing table, up against a wall decorated with wallpaper featuring what appear to be joyous, jumping sheep.

Oh, and one more thing: She’s sitting in a pile of her own feces, looking excitedly at the painting’s viewer as she smears it on a piece of paper underneath her. Apparently, she’s crafting a masterpiece; posted on an adjacent wall and door, respectively, are shit-on-paper works looking just like Edvard Munch’s “Scream” and Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.”

Kinda cute. Kinda funny. Really gross. It fits what the curators of the exhibit Local Humor From the Flatlands had in mind for the show at the Sheppard Fine Arts Gallery.

“It will be like an odd circus,” said exhibit co-curator Mick Sheldon in the curator’s statement. “It will be accessible, provocative, bewildering and, with some works, mildly obscene. It will stir things up like a hot dog and jelly donut soup. It may get you into trouble. It will give the janitor, the maintenance folks and the critics something to grasp onto and dispute. We like it like that, down here where it’s hot and sticky, and we all just have to laugh it off.”

The “down here” that Sheldon speaks about is the Central Valley of California, and the 11 artists on display are from that neck of the woods. Local Humor From the Flatlands is actually the second portion of a Reno-Sacramento art exchange program of sorts; an exhibit, Nevada Zen, featuring 15 Nevada artists, was held last fall at the Center for Contemporary Art in Sacramento.

Sheldon is one of the artists showing wares, and his four paintings are some of the exhibit’s most attention-grabbing pieces. My favorite, “Roach Hunt/Mother and Child Murderers” depicts a simple scene: two women, one older and one younger, battling several enormous cockroaches near a dish-filled sink.

What makes the painting funny and intriguing are its details and the way that Sheldon’s unique style enhances those details. His paintings are loud in the choice of color, the coloring style—it looks like he is in a hurry when he colors, missing some linear black spaces—and the exaggerated features. The mother in “Roach Hunt” is an older socialite—her rectangular, manicured nails, gray hair and cleavage-displaying orange dress show that—and she looks awkward wearing a swimming mask while holding a can of bug spray and a fly swatter. Her daughter, however, looks even more awkward, wearing a swimming mask and a snorkel as she holds a can of bug spray in one hand and a roach in the other. This painting will invoke at least a muted snicker from most who view it.

Paintings aren’t the only works on display, as photos, prints and works of sculpture share the spotlight. In the center of the room are four sculptures of dogs, all of which share several common traits.

First, they’re all cute in that stupid dog sort of way. Their tongues are all lolling out as they each sit on their back legs, their big, brown eyes staring out into space. Second, they all have short names: “Taylor,” “Sacto,” “Pal” and “Mort.” Finally, they all look like someone ran these pooches through a malfunctioning paint factory, as they are all multi-colored mutts in numerous hues beyond calico. We’re talking purples, oranges, greens, yellows, blues—you name the color, and it’s somewhere on the coats of these ceramic canines. There’s something weirdly cheerful about these dogs, and the wild, unnatural colors only enhance that cheerfulness.

Hilarious, sick art abounds in the Sheppard Fine Arts Gallery. It makes me suspect that all of that Central Valley heat may be warping artists’ minds. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.