Chimps and monks

Mark Bryan, detail from “The Puppet Show,” oil on canvas, 2004.

Mark Bryan, detail from “The Puppet Show,” oil on canvas, 2004.

There is a thin line that separates art from cartoons, and both of them from really goofy dreams. In Bread and Circus, a collection of paintings up this month at the Solomon Dubnick Gallery, artist Mark Bryan takes a big eraser to that line and makes it disappear.

A couple of Bryan’s oils feature a pinched, chimp-like figure wearing a Napoleon-style hat; an observer may or may not conclude that the figure is the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—which would put these paintings in the category of political cartoons. In one, “The Puppet Show,” the figure is attached to marionette strings; he holds a toy fighter jet, which is dropping bombs, aloft in one hand, while the other hand, clutching an Army tank, rests on a Bible. Elsewhere under the proscenium, a factory belches smoke near a series of mushroom clouds, an oil well belches black goo and a globe rests with a knife jabbed into it. In another, “The Liberator,” the figure drives a giant tank shaped like a country church.

What prevents these paintings from being mere cartoons is their dreamlike weirdness. And Bryan’s other paintings—from odd Venus figures to anthropomorphic tornadoes to skyscrapers dragged across a plain, ancient-Egypt-style, by thousands of slaves—continue the dreamy aura. If you like to linger in the morning and try to recall the images in your mind before they evaporate, chances are you’ll like Bryan’s work.

Also on display in the same gallery is The Treasure Hunt, oil paintings and drawings by Monique Passicot. Her works seem to spring from a dreamlike place similar to Bryan’s, but they are less cartoony, more like images coming from meditation. Indeed, some of Passicot’s drawings depict Buddhist monks, and she also is showing a series of scrolls inspired by various Asian art traditions.

Both shows are on display at Solomon Dubnick Gallery, 2131 Northrop Avenue, from May 6 through June 5, with a Second Saturday reception on May 8.