Monsters, monoprints and Mating Whorls 

Carman, Westover and Kirkman at Basement Gallery

The three artists currently featured at the Basement Gallery are all well known in Boise's art community. Bill Carman, Amy Westover and Wil Kirkman have each carved a place for themselves with their distinctive contributions to the scene. Putting the three together in one space, however, took gallery owner Perry Allen's eye for congruence in the oddest of combinations. The three artists appear to be working in three completely different veins--imaginative mixed media socio-politico-cultural commentary, abstract printmaking and Dr. Seuss-like neon sculpture--but after a closer inspection, many of the themes at the core of their work are echoed throughout the gallery space.

Bill Carman fills the anterior portion of the gallery with the absurdly serious, fantastical social commentary his audience has come to expect and collect. Already, in the few short weeks the work has been up, many of the pieces have been marked with the red "sold" dot that so disappoints latecomers like myself. Carman's drawn-painted-collage-doodles speak to the hefty subset of the population that delights in the macabre, the silly and the poignantly disgusting. His carefully crafted, childlike images are a nod to the pathetic characters of the not-so-super superhero subculture and the crude machinery and robots hearken back to the deliciously horrific cinema duo of director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Delicatessen and City of Lost Children. His subject matter probes the important issues explored by art masters for centuries: politics, social unrest, love and the necessary evil of picking one's nose.

Fortunately, Carman has provided a variety of styles, subject matter and price ranges to fit every taste and budget. While some collectors may be drawn to the intricately colored mixed media paintings on rusty and eroded metal or the delicate paintings of wide-eyed birds and assorted pastel rodents, I, luckily, am attracted to the pieces that best fit my price range: devious little drawings on notebook paper and envelope scraps of such mundane things as a nightmare-inducing monster wearing reading glasses, peering thoughtfully into a book while perched on a dangerously dainty toilet.

Amy Westover's work, while nothing like Carman's in subject matter, enjoys the same play between hard edges and soft forms, geometric and organic shapes and limited but complex color palettes. Best known for her large installation piece in Boise Art Museum's 2001 Idaho Triennial, which featured hundreds of carrots suspended from the ceiling, and her monumental contribution to Boise's public art scene, Grove Street Illuminated, Westover has found her way to a work that is gallery-conscious. Her 2004 Mono-Print Series offers no hint of the social and political commentary that her previous work has focused on. The pieces are abstract and untitled. They seem to be purely the result of an intense investigation into the mono-print process and the possibilities that color, line and shape can offer. They are beautiful and very well done, offering Westover the chance to make serious in-roads into the homes of her collectors.

Wil Kirkman's work is a surprising compliment to Carman's and Westover's. The hand-blown glass tubes filled with subtle tones of pink, red, blue, aqua and green neon phosphors are suggestive of biological elements, some innocuous and others pornographic. Three of the titles suggest an abstract series mentality similar to Westover's while the other four appear to speak to the political and social concerns shared by Carman's. "Waiting to Spawn" and "Mating Whorl" in particular allude to activities rarely performed by neon glass tubes, even those that are attractants for adult entertainment businesses. Even in its abstract form Kirkman's work is akin to Carman's. The twisting, arching, gyrating, lurching bodies of the sculptures are punctuated by thin, dendrite-like filaments of red neon that mimic the miniscule, delicate hands completing the spindly arms protruding from Carman's distorted, misshapen bodies.

These three seemingly unrelated bodies of work are powerful, insightful and worthy of praise by themselves, but in concert they are strange and beautiful, odd and obscure, imaginative and inspired. Gallery owner Allen has always tended to lean toward Boise's best artists, but rarely has he put together a selection of work that is so effective as an exhibition or so tempting as an art-purchasing opportunity.

This exhibition is on display through February at Basement Gallery, located in the Idanha Building at 9th and Main Street. A First Thursday reception takes place from 5 to 9 p.m. on Feb. 3.

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