One of the more interesting things about the annual No Dead Artists show is how it sometimes reflects the subcurrents roiling through society at large that may not show up quite as clearly in mainstream culture — at least yet. If this show is any gauge, the evolving role of the individual in an increasingly complicated world of giant global corporations provides an increasingly stark contrast to the American myth of the rugged individualist hero, an ethos that now seems as creaky as Clint Eastwood's semi-coherent conversation with an empty chair at the Republican National Convention. It may be that today's rugged individualists are more likely to be found on the margins of society, or such is the implicit message of Ira Upin's dramatic magic realist paintings such as Fat Cat (pictured), in which an aging mobster in sunglasses puffs on a cheroot and reclines in his easy chair as a torched building goes up in flames in the background.
In Jeff Pastorek's paintings, the individual subjects appear as tiny portraits arranged in grids where the emphasis is on how people express their emotions or desires in relation to each other, transforming portraiture into a painterly social network. In Nikki Rosato's figure studies like Connections No. 1, male and female silhouettes cobbled from road maps face each other as psychic connections represented by interstate highway systems connect the heart, mind and private parts in an endocrine superhighway of tentative longing. But nature is the ultimate arbiter of human events, as we see in Ayano Hisa's haunting photos of Japanese schools devastated by an earthquake. Here destroyed classrooms evoke the presence of students by their absence as rows of ruined desks stand shrouded in dust. Nature's healing role is reflected in Abhidnya Ghuge's hive-like installation of handmade paper plates, recalling the cellular systems of the natural world and how all creatures must situate themselves within their environment — as well as within themselves — in an age in which change is the only constant. — D. Eric Bookhardt