By Dan MacIntosh
Drawing inspiration from a late-eighteenth century theater tradition, College of the Desert is presenting a new exhibition called “Phantasmagoria.” If you think this event sounds like a Halloween hangover, you’re on the right track because this spooky practice originally began back when creepy folks would use a modified lantern to create scary figures, shadows and reflections on a surface, such as a wall, to shock and awe.
Now, this modern day updating of that tradition points its disfigured spotlight at five talented artists: Lee Balan, Shaktima Brien, Sharam Farshadfar, Peggy Vermeer and Brian Wilson. What they’ve done with their art is to essentially blur the lines between what is real and what you may actually be conjuring up from your own imagination.
Brian Wilson’s contribution mixes greens, blues and pinks into a swirl of colors that could be seen as a landscape one minute, but might be a polluted river the next. Titled Santa Rosa, these images aren’t so much frightening as they are just a little bit confusing. Wilson loved drawing landscapes and maps as a child, and it shows in this work. He draws much inspiration from the Southwest United States, and when you keep this geographic factor in mind, it starts to make a little more sense.
If you want disturbing, though, Lee Balen gives us something truly disturbing with Am I The Man Who Suddenly Explodes. Using a palate that mixes high tech gadgetry with troubling images, Balen connects together various male images on a wall-sized frame. On the floor in front of the ‘canvas,’ is a white manikin torso doing a half-handstand from the midsection up—just half, since the guy’s top half is, well, missing. Balan is no rookie when it comes to exhibiting his art. He’s been doing this for thirty years, and it shows. In addition to his knowledge of art, Balan was the director for a mental health program that emphasized benefits of art and writing to help clients control psychological illness symptoms. However, something tells me this piece wasn’t used therapeutically to calm any of his patients’ nerves.
One of Vermeer’s two contributions is titled Fugitive. This first piece was created on two planks that look like they’ve been separated from the fence in somebody’s backyard. On the outside of the top, right and bottom sides of this work there are a series of crookedly nailed nails. Inside the frame is a mishmash of an electric motherboard—perhaps from a personal computer—with the mask of a face on top of it. What Vermeer’s trying to say with the combination of these elements isn’t entirely clear, but the overall effect is quite unsettling.
Saving the best for last, Vermeer’s other entry is labeled Tron. Tron is like the kitchen clock in either The Addams Family or The Munsters TV show, as it features a white facial mask with clock hands on it. Over this man’s head sits a weathervane. In place of eyeballs, though, Vermeer has situated two wristwatch faces. (With the advent of cell phones, one supposes wristwatches must now be used for something). The whole ensemble is mounted on a jet black canvas, which looks as though black paint had been splattered all over it.
There are those that believe the only aim of art is to present beauty in all its various forms and configurations. However, if art indeed reflects life, one doesn’t need to live too long to realize there is plenty of ugliness in life. “Phantasmagoria” is a delightfully sick little exhibit that will appeal to the twisted nature in all of us. Just as Salvador Dali was able to turn the world upside down and inside out, these unique “Phantasmagoria” artists are boldly and proudly carrying on that diabolical tradition.
You’ll have a chance—if you dare—to view this exhibit through December 12. However, you may want to set your sights on November 20 because from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m., there will be an artists’ reception, which is free and open to the public. There will also be musical entertainment and light refreshments on that night.
The Marks Art Center at College of the Desert, 43-500 Monterey Ave., Palm Desert, (760) 776-7278; www.collegeofthedesert.edu/community/gallery. Thru Dec. 12. Artists’ Reception Nov. 20, 5pm. Admission is free.