I can't exactly pinpoint why I was so taken with Homer's Revenge by Tucson invitee Brooke Grucella. It's a large image composed of wood panels painted with ordinary house paint, as well as spray paint, nailed to a back gallery wall that's been painted bright rose. Stylistically, it's a possible cross between Lari Pittman and 1980s Kenny Scharf, with a bit of manga and Saturday morning cartoons thrown in to confused me.

The multi-panel piece depicts an eyeless, dark-haired, green-skinned female with braces and freckled cheeks, on whose forehead appears an exploding nuclear mushroom cloud. She may or may not be wearing a tennis outfit and may or may not be standing on an elliptical trainer decorated with a death's head that dissipates into thin air. One arm ends in a pile of chili fries and clutches a scepter with a red ball face with horn-rimmed glasses; surrounding and threading through the images are gooey cloud formations, but that's only a guess. In any event, the sheer complexity of Grucella's piece commands a second and third look.

I know exactly why I was pulled to Jason Rudolph Peña's painting, One of Us. It's taken from a scene in Freaks (1932), one of the most gut-wrenching, pathos-laced films of all time. It's an unforgettable cult movie that used real carnival sideshow performers commonly displayed for their deformities before such indignities were finally outlawed. The black-and-white cinema classic painted a sympathetically human image of such carnival performers, with "normal" people cast as villains. Peña has used the movie image of Schlitze the Pinhead, who was born Simon Metz in Yucatán, Mexico, with microencephaly, a condition resulting in a cone-shaped skull suggestive of the ancient Mayan practice of head binding and impaired mental abilities. Though a male, he was usually displayed as a female. Peña's piece freezes an excited Schlitze, who is barely intelligible in the film, in a scene in which "she's" being told by co-performer Phroso the Clown that her dress is very pretty and that when he goes to Paris, he will get her a hat to go with it. For me, the image produces instant heartache. Peña's effigy is bathed in a golden light, its poignant title valiantly including Schlitze in a much larger community.

Sudan, an oversize black-and-white gelatin print by Jehu (a.k.a. photographer Jason Grubb
Sudan, an oversize black-and-white gelatin print by Jehu (a.k.a. photographer Jason Grubb
The Conversation, a painting by Brian Boner
The Conversation, a painting by Brian Boner

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Colin Chillag's Being-Towards-Others, a half-painted, half-drawn canvas of a woman adorned with tattoos chatting poolside with a drink in her hand. Chillag used the left side of the canvas as a carefully labeled palette of color swatches, turning the painting into a study of the artist's painting process.

In the sculpture department, several pieces popped out. My pick of the litter includes Pete Deise's Pelvic Triangle, a roiling and spiky metal sculpture with seemingly non-existent welds and pristine white powder coating. While suggestive of the folk tale of the shark-toothed vagina dentata, it also calls to mind the painfully twisted maze of childbirth. Aaron Dunham's From the Depths, the Measured Climb Back to Self recycles wood from an Arizona gamble oak hit by lightning; sanded satin smooth and oiled, parts of the charred tree thread sensuously through each other in a flame-like configuration.

Hector Ruiz's Kill Your Idols, a gold foil-covered bull stuck with old Spanish swords and Native American arrows, rather than typical bullfighting paraphernalia, was a huge hit with the kids in the crowd, mainly because of the golden poop that Ruiz added as a finishing touch. Randy Slack's sculptural installation, mein Everest, pairs a 1951 VW Beetle the artist painstakingly restored over four long years with a large painting of what appears to be an old ad for the Volkswagen bug. It's an oversize shrine to the profound bromance between man and motorized machine that I have never been able to relate to.

In the category of photography, there was no ignoring Jehu's (nee photographer Jason Grubb's) Sudan, an enormous black-and-white print of an African male whose face is twisted in agony. His anguished expression metaphorically captures the political and social turmoil of the upended African nation, rocked for years by civil war and perverse human trafficking for purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation.

And I'm still trying to figure out how Brandon Sullivan created his digital projection, With an H. It's an ornately framed image of a woman looking into the distance; while she doesn't move, her hair does, as if blown by some unseen wind.

As for the bad and/or boring, Smoke by Melissa Martinez and Greg Richard gets a thumbs-down. The badly burned remains of a lightning-struck tree mounted on a metal stand just doesn't cut it, even as minimalism. Saying that something is art doesn't make it so. And I simply didn't get Part and Parcel by Steven Hofberger. The artist painted Greek figures, the outline of a blimp, and biomorphic shapes resembling bacillae on the side of a wooden packing crate, covered with a wash of orange that allows the pentimento of pre-existing shipping marks to emerge. Yes, crates are cool as a medium, but not enough to imbue Hofberger's image with much meaning or interest.

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