“Jos Howard Demme: Bad Boys, Good Dogs, Everyone Else in Between”

This solo show at ATM Gallery / Studio is both romp and nightmare – Dante's Inferno dressed up like a clown

I love you more than words can say by Jos Howard Demme

Jos Howard Demme's hallway is both romp and nightmare, Dante's Inferno dressed up as a clown. I love you more than words can say features an angelic blond-haired being locking lips with a devil creature, a thick, bright red tongue unapologetically joining their distorted bodies. They're surrounded by inebriated green streaks and encompassed by the unruly golden hair of the angel thing like fire swallowing their libidinous heads. The devil creature looks like it's been socked in the face a few times with something heavy. Meanwhile, it's the angel thing that looks like the master, dark-eyed and focused, having its way.

Across the hallway is Landscape. Loosely applied oil paint makes a free-flowing scene of green hills, lush trees, and a swirling blue sky. The paint is so loosely applied, in fact, that nearly half the landscape consists of white paper. Bob Ross it isn't. Think your wildest van Gogh or Cézanne, only more so. In the context of the hedonism of images like I love you more than words can say, even this quaint vision looks like a demented day trip, as though this setting may be where the angel thing and the devil creature have their picnics.

At the end of the hallway is I love you more than words can say (?), which, if I'm taking its placement seriously, functions as the hallway/narrative's climax, the finale we've been waiting for. Another devil creature, this one darker, larger, and more menacing than the first, is surrounded by many-colored figures smiling like jack-o'-lanterns. Despite their abstract, smoky appearance, simplified to their bare essentials, green and red faces, smears acting as eyes, they are electric with life – in this case, a kind of mocking pleasure. A slithering pink tongue pours out of the devil's mouth. It isn't just sex; it's fucking. Debauchery. But also misery, present in the bust of a dark man in the bottom right of the painting, mouth open, flecks of white acting as teeth, eyes sober. He may be enjoying the hullabaloo around him, threatening to ensnare us, or pleading for help.

All the same, I can't help the feeling that something hilarious is happening. The devil seems amused, like a charismatic villain. The question mark in the title, I love you more than words can say (?), seems like a wink, or at least a confused shrug. Nearby, in Long Pink Tongue (Blanket), a six-nippled humanoid lies stretched out in its underwear. The humanoid's tongue hangs out of its mouth with attending text and a helpful line reminding us this is the "pink tongue" we've been told about. Only the piece doesn't have any color save dark lines, so the "pink tongue" ends up looking like a loaf of shit. The figure, unaware or uninterested, rests its cheek on its hand, feeling lazy about the whole thing.

Finally, Demme has lined the floor of the hallway with bathmat-sized carpets into which scenes have been melted. I was invited by the artist to stand on them. So while I'm staring into the abyss of the apocalyptic I love you more than words can say (?), I'm also standing on the face of the Tongue Princess (Queen), seared into a carpet's surface. "Kissing and Biting," Demme writes in a provided poem. "Being angry, being joy." It's with a sense of humor that Demme's creations regale us, and it's with a laugh and a shudder that we pay close attention.

“Jos Howard Demme: Bad Boys, Good Dogs, Everyone Else in Between”

ATM Gallery, 5305 Bolm #12; www.atmgallery.info
Through April 30

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Jos Howard Demme, ATM Gallery

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