The task of reading George Orwell's famous dystopian tome Animal Farm is something practically everyone experienced in high school. We had to do it, and -- in all likelihood -- so did you. And probably because it's something that's typically digested during one's formative years, the satirical yet frightening sociopolitical allegory is something that tends to stick in your craw and offer influence for years afterwards.
Prolific art party impresario Jen Deveroux, for instance, read the book as a teenager, and memories of the exploits of Snowball, Napoleon, and their cohorts bubbled to the surface when she was planning the theme of her latest event, which wound up becoming this weekend's Barnyard Riot Art Show at the Monarch Theatre.
"I was looking at jobs and considering this particular thing working for PETA, and I'd also been thinking a lot about my next big art show and what it would be about," she says. "And I just remembered Animal Farm and it all just came together."
The book helped inspire the show of animals revolting or striking back in some form. There's a little bit of When Animals Attack mixed in with Animal Farm, since Deveroux says the not all of the 60-something local artists participating used renditions of beasts of burden or livestock in their works.
"The overall idea behind Barnyard Riot is animals fighting back against humans or just animal rights in general," Deveroux says. (A portion of the proceeds from the event, she adds, will also be donated to the Valley-based Pee Wee's Pals Animal Rescue.)
Some of the dozens of artists involved in the showcase are Tato Caraveo, Jeremy Arviso, Geoff Soderberg, Erika Jaynes, Glen Allan, Holly Anderson, Orlando Allison, Jondo Fett, Yai Nosaur, and Jared Aubel, among others. Naturally, each piece is unique and there is a wide variety of creatures great and small depicted in the paintings, illustrations, sculptures, and mixed media efforts that will be on display around the Monarch's upstairs lounge on Saturday night. That includes pieces that were directly inspired by Orwell's novel.
Painter Robert Gentile created two such works for the show that remix the ideas of farm animals becoming a revolutionary armed force with propaganda-style imagery and his own street art style. One piece, Rural Calamity, is both minimalist and militaristic, has a Napoleon-like pig standing in the poise and uniform of a four-star general with a farmhouse in the background.
"It seemed to fit the mood of Animal Farm. I read the book in high school, and, it wasn't fun, because I wasn't really big on school at the time, so I really didn't make a lot of the connections with Lenin, Stalin, and Russian revolutionaries," Gentile says. "But the older I got, the more it made sense. And as soon as I heard about the theme of the art show, it's the first thing that popped into my head."
The 37-year-old painter also created a second piece that ties into both Animal Farm and his background as a tagger while growing up in New York. It features another pig spray-painting arguably the most famous phrase of the book -- the oft-quoted edict, "Some animals are more equal than others" -- onto the side of a barn.
"I'm a reformed graffiti artist from New York, so a lot of my style is comes from that," Gentile says.
Not every artist contributing works to Barnyard Riot decided to stay on the farm with their pieces, however. Local tattoo artist and painter Nicole Marie McCord and her darkly themed creation -- made with a combination of watercolors, inks, acrylic, and what she claims is "wizard blood" -- offers a unique juxtaposition of the notion of using animals as clothing.
"Jen said it was an animal rights-themed show, so I thought it would be fun to do an old school Victorian portrait of a bear in a fancy dress wearing a skinny blond girl as a mink stole," McCord says.
She adds that her work is a bit of "a turning of the tables in a Goldilocks kind of way."
Steve Caballero also features a fearsome Ursus arctos is his painting, although he admits that his piece is a pre-existing work that he thought would fit in at the show.
When he heard about Barnyard Riot and its theme, he just happened to already have a piece that would be suitable for the show. It's a larger portrait of a roaring zombie grizzly bear brandishing a loaded shotgun that he'd already been working on in his studio for years. Although the 6-foot-by-5-foot work doesn't involve a particular farm animal, he says it fits within the realm of the showcase.
"I started it like two years ago and had this thing around for a while and I've kept adding to it and adding to it," he says. "Just kept working on it and it's finally gotten to the point where I like what I'm doing with it. Yeah, I think it will fit the theme pretty good."
And then there are some artists who are taking the whole idea of Barnyard Riot to symbolize a different sort country calamity altogether, like Marco Turrubiartes.
The painter, who works under the nom de guerre "El Vaquero Muerto," will be taking things in a completely different direction than most of the others involved with the show, although it will involve a bit of animalistic behavior in a sense. He's planning on creating live art pieces at the show for his "Whiskey & Tits" series that are based off photos of nude models wearing animal half-masks and straw hats while holding bottles of whiskey of the Jim Beam and Jack Daniel's.
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"The animal masks and straw hats are to kind of support the theme of the show," he says. "Plus, I thought it would add a fun dimension and let us do a hootenanny-ish portraiture. Kind of backwoods, good ol' times sort of deal after getting ripped on whiskey."
The "Barnyard Riot Art Show" takes place on Saturday, August 10, at Monarch Theatre. Doors open at 9:30 p.m. Admission is $7.