"Chris Guarino: From the Unknown"

The haunting array of sculptural mutants displayed at Art on 5th are at once foreign and familiar, frightening and comical

The Collector, by Chris Guarino

Nestled between Uptown Cheapskate and the UPS Store in a strip mall on South Lamar is the Art on 5th gallery. While an apparent misnomer, the gallery did begin on West Fifth Street before moving south of the river in 2013. Three years later, it still boasts one of the most diverse collections in the city and proudly houses a large collection of Dr. Seuss art. Behind its doors is something for everybody.

Headlining the gallery until June 18 is Chris Guarino's "From the Unknown." Not as much a misnomer, the exhibition gives you an assortment of sculpture and flatwork depicting a haunting array of things that are at once foreign and familiar, frightening and comical. Condensed from the same fantastical ether that fogs Tim Burton's worlds, Guarino's works are somewhere between the kid-friendly creations of Pixar and the nightmarish surrealism of an Adam Jones music video.

The exhibition is divided into four bodies of work: the Masquerade series, the Little Imperfections series, Forest Spirits, and the Lotus series, and each section is dedicated to a unique aspect of Guarino's vision. The Masquerade series is mostly flatwork of dreamlike hybrids mixing humans and animals. Female figures with octopus limbs or wasp wings taunt the viewer with their mysterious and confrontational gazes. The life-sized sculptures of the Lotus series greet you with crossed legs and open arms as you enter the gallery. However, they are less than meditatively tranquil. The head of We Are Ephemeral uses both an animal skull and a human face. Encased in a bell jar, it can swivel. When I rotated the head, I was confronted with the hollow sockets of the skull and suddenly came face to face with a macabre Minotaur. The small statues of the Forest Spirits series use a variety of mixed media including moss, string, and glass. They are painted in a cartoonish palette of soft blues and punctuating greens. These are hybrid forms living somewhere in the space between the organic and mechanical, as if they've wandered away from a Steampunk Renaissance festival. Finally, the works in the Little Imperfections series look like the discarded remains from a dollmaker's workshop. Disproportionate hands and heads are joined together creating a subversive beauty in their odd juxtapositions. Overall, each artwork in this exhibition is well crafted with a distinct personality.

Setting aside Guarino's strong personal style that has its roots in the pop-culture macabre, I found this work underscored with environmental commentary. The unification of humans and animals has a long mythic history. While we may think that it is a harmonious state to reach toward, we should remember that not all of those creations were peaceful. (I'm thinking of Medusa and the Minotaur, or even mermaids who lure sailors to their deaths.) In Guarino's art, nature is still dangerous. And this danger prompts the thought: To coexist with nature is our natural state. Or is it?

"Chris Guarino: From the Unknown"

Art on 5th, 3005 S. Lamar, 512/481-1111
Through June 18

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Art on 5th, Chris Guarino, Tim Burton

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