When Samuel Johnson said "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel," he wasn't rebuking actual patriots, just opportunists hiding behind the flag. Symbols and icons have always been, well, iconic, and Jesse Shaw explores them in linoleum block prints such as his War on Terror (pictured), a kind of ballistic-expressionist freak show with masked jihadists, Abu Ghraib inmates, Osama bin Laden and oil barrels orbiting around a Dick Cheneyesque figure clutching a gas nozzle like a weapon. In less skillful hands this could seem sophomoric, but Shaw has a killer instinct and wields a sharp knife as we see in his American Religion depiction of apocalyptic conditions — as men in suits spew filth from every orifice. In this show, Shaw skewers everything from consumerism and the military to sports and funeral parlors in densely patterned prints so acerbic they make George Grosz look like a piker.
Jessica Goldfinch tweaks iconic figures by emphasizing their human aspect in a series of small paintings and Shrinky Dink icons that imbue mythic symbols with human frailties. So Our Lady of Siam features a Madonna holding conjoined Siamese twins, and her Shrinky Dink icon, Sacred Heart of the Self Contained, looks almost normal until you see the little serpents writhing amid an anatomical tangle of blood vessels. Others update baroque and classical imagery with tattoos or cutaway anatomical views in an investigation of the archetypes that we ordinarily take for granted — at least until Goldfinch recasts them in a new light. All this is complemented by J. David Lindsley's sculptures such as Restraint, in which a couple of life-size cast-glass arms wrapped in barbed wire effectively evoke the passionate, if not always coherent, protests gripping the world today. What all three artists convey is a sense that symbols not only matter but should be subjected to a healthy dose of skepticism lest demagogues subvert them to their own dubious agendas. — D. Eric Bookhardt
Through June 5
Some Restrictions May Apply: Work by Jessica Goldfinch, J. David Lindsley and Jesse Shaw
Du Mois Gallery, 4921 Freret St., 818-6032