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Jagged Hedges

The highly personal "suburban surrealism" of Steven L. Jones.


Each of Jones' "acts" are played out under the warm streetlights and in the manicured back lawns of suburbia. Yet it is precisely this familiar and innocuous imagery that is skewed to create such an unsettling effect. In "Fall," Jones depicts a scene in which a child dressed up in a devil costume looks on as a toddler is shoved from a front porch, presumably by his siblings, in the cruelest of trick-or-treat pranks. The brick of the house in the background is jarred sideways, and the line of hedges beneath the falling child resembles razor wire. The line control, monochromatism and cartoonish nature of the rendering make for a technique that would feel quite at home as an illustration on the pages of Entertainment Weekly — that is, were it not for the dark and complex subject matter.

The three multipaneled works in the show make use of the convoluted shifts in time and space associated with dreaming. In the show's flagship piece, "Winter Was Hard," five framed, rectangular, ink-on-dyed-paper works are hung with the edges of their frames touching. The first scene depicts the spooky silhouettes of a couple driving in a car. The next two images portray a snarling dog and a (presumably) dead dog beneath a knot of daggerlike Christmas lights. Next, the character who was driving the car is now floating in a bedroom with the dogs. In the final piece, the other character, a small boy, covers his eyes as the three figures are literally shattered. The five panels are of varying size and are hung on the wall at seemingly random points, adding to the free-associative nature of the works.

Jones employs several allegorical images in his work, many of which are recurring. One common symbol is that of the shovel, which Jones uses to "dig up" the gnarled pipework of his own subconscious. In "Wet (Dreamscape With the Fall of Icarus)," a character follows a ladder far beneath his childhood home. An interesting twist on the "Jack and the Beanstalk" tale, the journey is one in which the hero descends rather than ascends. In the final panel, one can just make out the edge of the protagonist's foot as he slips off the ladder beneath a network of drainpipes.

For all of Jones' affinity with avant-garde painting movements of the past, the most obvious being cubism, his work has more in common with traditional modes of art and storytelling. (The macabre tales of author/illustrator Edward Gorey and filmmaker Tim Burton come to mind.) Yet if Jones' stories are expressions of immense sorrow, there is little evidence in his work that his protagonists will break out of the unremitting cycle of grief and self-examination in which they find themselves. Tragically, Jones' plotlines are all conflict and no resolution. S

Steven L. Jones is a former art critic for Style Weekly. His "Winter Was Hard" hangs at Main Art Gallery, 1537 W. Main St., through March 28.

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