What: “Minnesota Funk” Public Reception
When: 6 p.m., Thursday
Where: Katherine E. Nash Gallery, Regis Center for Art, 405 S. 21st Ave., Minneapolis
Four years ago, artist Chris Larson decided to clear everything out of his studio — one he’d worked in for 15 years.
“I got two 20-yard dumpsters, gutted the entire space and threw everything away,” he said.
With a blank slate, the multimedia artist and University of Minnesota professor set out to purge his creative influences. Three key ingredients — graphite from a previous work, records he liked to play in the space and vellum paper — would influence “Heavy Rotation,” on display for the Nash Gallery’s latest exhibition, “Minnesota Funk.”
“I know I’m influenced very easily by the things that are surrounding me so I was very cautious about what I brought into the studio,” Larson said.
The new space morphed into a multi-tiered set for Larson’s video, “Heavy Rotation.” Mounted above a man obsessively drawing dark circles on the vellum paper, the camera eventually reveals the protagonist climbing through his artistry — the mechanical process of drawing the circles creates a portal.
“The effect of making the drawings affects the architecture of the space and ultimately manipulates it enough for the floor to drop through,” Larson said. “It’s sort of this psychological mind warp of this character going through all these different studio spaces.”
Larson and 13 other artists find a collective surrealism for “Minnesota Funk,” though not all of the artists design art in the name of defying the space-time continuum. Inspired by a host of cultural influences, artist and University professor Lamar Peterson subverts a mundane reality as opposed to making mind-bending narratives like Larson.
Past paintings by Peterson feature dark themes obscured by a pleasant array of bright colors and cartoony shapes. Culling from animation and thrift store purchases of children’s books, he often distorts a picturesque reality for the sake of cultural commentary.
“On the surface is happiness and bright smiles — a carefree life,” Peterson said. “Underneath there’s a darker, sinister edge.”
His works on display point to a social and political context, a running theme in his art. Several figures flee orange water to climb a bright pink tree in his largest painting for “Minnesota Funk,” partly inspired by the destruction from Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean.
A simple image of a man wearing a suit and tie became the impetus behind another one of Peterson’s series.
“It’s just a straightforward portrait of a business man with a suit on,” Peterson said. “He had a pretty stern look on his face.”
Using scraps from his studio space like staples, stickers and tissues, he made the face out of a collage. In a separate portrait, the artist combined his comic-book stylization again to create a shadowy blue and red figure with an abnormal grimace.
“I went back and I made him have bright eyes and a giant crazy smile,” Peterson said. “It’s taking reality and tweaking it.”