'Devil May Care' at Current Space

All three artists in this show use drawing, painting, and sculpture to interpret hellish worlds or create new ones. Joe Crawford Pile's large mixed media paintings on panel depict monster trucks freewheelin' through broken neighborhoods in a frenzy of fast brushstrokes and collage and scribbled pencil and paint. They're joyous in their revelry, and I'm initially reminded of the War Boys from the post-world-disaster movie and occasional-rock-opera "Mad Max: Fury Road," their nihilistic dedication to Immortan Joe and the empire. But also I'm reminded of, like, drunk and reckless drivers, people who use cars to chase their own dumb visceral joy (often with consequences). Pile's paintings illustrate, in an instinctive and technical way, rather than a heady one, a one-to-one translation of that extravagant/dangerous thrill or what Pile calls "the primal beauty" of these vehicles.

Works by Kyle Kogut and Phaan Howng, though, provide a good balance to slow us down. In Howng's drawings, tacked to one wall in a cluster, washes of neon pinks and yellows accentuate grey, woody limbs and branches that also appear bodily. The limbs create structures and body horror composites of flesh and of grinding teeth, of things that grasp at and wrap around each other. In her installations and floor sculptures, Howng uses plaster and sickly fluorescent paint to create small, hellish landscape-like forms. But her installation in Current's front window uses shell-like vessels and stone and anemone shapes that bring to mind poisoned and radioactive waters, and what, say, industry and disaster have done to our basic health and quality of life. But none of that is particularly clear; Howng's work elicits more of an abstracted general harm or toxicity.

Kogut's sculptures are strong and somewhat enigmatic, creating and embracing their own mystic qualities. 'Idle Zeal,' a priest's black stole hung around a large wooden Chevy symbol (which you could also see as a sideways cross) is a meditation on, perhaps, the uselessness or mutability of symbols, but also intersections of religion and commerce and object worship. On either end of the stole are three white drops (Blood? Sweat? Water?) and a white pentagram. Nearby, 'Gonfalon,' a large flag-like sickle-shape made of fabric, suggests how a flag can be symbolic of national pride and spilled blood and violence.

Kogut's drawings link back up with Pile's paintings, though Kogut's are far less frantic, but they share some humor. In 'Deadweight' a hairy, pointy-eared demon works on an abstract drawing that looks like woodgrain or topographical patterns (or just wobbly lines), while sitting on top of a man's back, as the man hunches over and tinkers with a car. The creature doesn't appear to be actually causing any harm, but in 'Commute' he reappears in another banal setting, peering up from under the passenger seat with a sly look in his eyes, as smoke billows from under the hood.

Overall, the show's purported theme on "the futility of human life" doesn't quite pull through, and this is maybe the unavoidable drawback of a group show that's slapped with a heavy overarching theme. It inevitably reaches, but begins to scratch the surface of hellish futures and objects that live in them.

"Devil May Care" Phaan Howng, Kyle Kogut, and Joe Crawford Pile at Current Space through April 3

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