Sunday, August 19, 2018

Susan Bowers at Barrister's Gallery

What happens if an artist encounters her inner child and it turns out to be Barbie?  For Susan Bowers, it  must have come as a shock when that plastic fantasy of teen perfection began turning up in her dreams decades later bearing scars from abusive relationships. Bowers' interests had long been more attuned to artsy bohemian icons like Jane Bowles, the writer wife of elegant hipster author Paul Bowles, whose midcentury Tangier, Morocco-based novel, The Sheltering Sky, was in 1990 made into a film starring Debra Winger and John Malcovich as Jane and Paul Bowles. In this show, Jane Bowles' legacy of abuse by the men and women in her life seems to have infused the Barbie of Bowers' dreams, who now appears in her paintings. Loosely rendered in drippy swatches of pastel colored pigment, Barbie in Tangier, An Ancient Pissed Off Queer Indifference, sets the tone as a loner Barbie surveys a deserted Moroccan beach wearing her pert blankness as a shield. In Is It at Least Partially as You Might Wish?, she remains pert but scratched up, as if from a rough night. She looks more ebullient in Nothing Could Dash Her Hopes for Love (Barbie and Burroughs in Tangier), above, where beat icon William Burroughs, who once “accidentally” shot and killed his wife in Mexico, lurks in the shadows.

Oversize lipstick sculptures, rendered in lurid red glass or dense, gloopy ceramics, occupy much of the gallery's floor space. Lip Gloss for a Perpetual Grin with Jagged Rows of Razor Teeth features a protruding pink ceramic shaft incised with the message “Stop Staring.” The symbolism of lipstick is historically female, but these oversize versions look distinctly phallic, which Bowers says is intentional since the show is really all about the interplay of masculine and feminine. Indeed, an alcove gallery area is filled with prints with titles like Women in Love (I am the Flame and Glory of Life),  depicting beefy naked ladies fiercely wrestling on a bear rug. As art shows go, most of this stuff is convoluted and challenging yet often colorfully engaging. Jane Bowles could probably relate. -Bookhardt / Queer Bubblegum Dream -- World Reality: Mixed Media by Susan Bowers, Through Sept. 1, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506.