Visual Arts

Cel Yourself

Every once in a while, no matter how good life is, you just want to get the hell out.

Sadly, many of us resort to booze and drugs for our mental vacations. But if you're wanting to put the bottle on the shelf, good art can provide an excellent means of escapism. At Mesa Contemporary Arts' "Cel Mates," a collaborative installation by David Quan, Mike Maas, Roy Wasson Valle, and Matt Connelly, the artists transform the small gallery into a totally different world.

The show is appropriately named. Walking into the gallery, I felt as if I'd landed in the middle of a cartoon. The walls are covered with a painted dark landscape filled with army-green trees and an ochre forest floor. The room is dark, the forest is looming and there are life-size sculptures of various creatures lurking about — threatening to interfere with your space.

The west wall holds a large sculpture of a weirdo animal perched upon a cloud. This odd being has four arms, a monkey's face, three eyes, and an ornate crown. It's cute, but with a necklace made of skulls, it looks like a tricky deity — someone to whom you should pay homage in order to pass.

To add to the surrealistic experience, three huge upholstered suns hang from the ceiling. The circular surfaces are covered in stuffed rings of pink, orange, and yellow fabrics — it looks like some sort of funky couch from the 1960s. In the center of each squishy circle is a single illuminated eyeball, partially covered by its fuzzy eyelid adorned with long black lashes. These work especially well because even though they look comfy and soft, the eyes are lazily watching your every move.

The creature and the suns are the most successful in that they fit the creepy forest vibe and inspire the imagination. Unfortunately, the other sculptures weren't as good a fit. One was a drooling, snotty hound on the floor, popping out of a manhole. Another piece, made of layers of painted wood, shows a colorful ape riding a motorbike. Both show considerable skill but would be better off in a cityscape, not a shadowy wilderness. They ultimately bring you away from the conjured nature atmosphere and disrupt the experience.

The only piece that was wholly unsuccessful was the tree in the southeast corner. It had the appropriate creep factor, but the execution seemed rushed and conceptually bipolar. The trunk looks like a telephone pole — no roots or transition from the gallery's hardwood floor to the base of the tree. At the top of the post are a number of square boards, painted in bulbous green patterns to create the illusion of leafy bundles. The center panel is a menacing leaf-face, mouth agape with sharp, cruel teeth. On the floor are various sculptural animals — just hanging about, dressed in beanies and street clothes. The piece lacks cohesiveness as a single entity and as a part of the installation.

Regardless, the show, as a whole, successfully bombards the viewer with the sensation of entering an animated world of whimsical surrealism — without the aid of illegal substances.

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Lilia Menconi
Contact: Lilia Menconi