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Valley of the Dolls 

Recently, the topic of goths and dolls has come up in conversation. This was prompted, in part, by news that a Z'otz cafe currently under construction on Decatur Street will feature a stage for a puppet theater. Nouveau gothic decor is an integral part of the cafe's identity, and there is, after all, something about dolls, puppets and marionettes that, for whatever reason, goes hand in glove with alternative gothic subcultures. Anne Rice's vast doll collection was a classic example, and this show of handmade dolls and photographs of dolls by Christie Kane, and the accompanying paintings of gothic Victorian mansions by Jason London Hawkins, only underscores the point.

Kane is best known as lead vocalist/guitarist for her band, the Hazard County Girls, but dolls are her obsession, and posing them in various situations imparts an especially human dimension. Kane claims their humanoid personas develop through a kind of reverse telekinesis: "My dolls tell me who they are as I make them. It is simply beyond my control." Which of course raises questions about who is the real master or mistress pulling the strings. But that may be an imponderable, and it's way too hot for imponderables, so for now let's just focus on the work at hand. After all, what could be more cute, commonplace and comforting than dolls -- right?

Esther the Overworked Nurse appears in a battlefield hospital setting. She looks a little flustered, but that may be because, according to the text panel, "a nurse can take only so much bloodshed and the war proved to be such a bloodbath ... Her job was leg reattachment." But, alas, as her nerves grew ever more frayed, it seems she attached the wrong leg to the wrong patient, leaving him with two left legs. Esther appears in a rustic wood and burlap doll hospital (constructed by Austin artist-rocker Randy "Biscuit" Turner) finished in natural earth tones accented by vascular splotches of red. Kane's texts can be elaborate, lending a literate, Edward Goreyesque narrative quality to the show.

Her doll photographs evoke movie stills. Here the story lines are often implicit, though Kane did fill us in on the whys and wherefores of Callalily Pines. It seems she was an aspiring concert pianist, but her temper was intemperate and one day, in a fit of pique, she slammed the piano lid down on her hand, severing it from her arm, now merely a stump with a hook. So she pines for her lost dream. Kane employs gothic irony as counterpoint to the sappy perfectionism of mainstream dolls like Barbie and Ken, melding the prosaic and tragic with an anarchic dash of levity.

Jason London Hawkins is a native of North Carolina and a New Orleanian since 1995. An ardent preservationist, Hawkins lives in the restored former residence of Kid Ory, Louis Armstrong's mentor and a leading jazzman of his day. His paintings are mostly of famous churches, whorehouses and gothic mansions. The Bordello of Lulu White, The Octoroon Queen, Mahogany Hall, is fairly typical. Here the turreted townhouse appears, windows aglow, against the backdrop of a lurid reddish sky like an ominous Tequila Sunrise. Similar in tone and style is his St. Mary's and St. Alphonsus in a Fantasy Sunset, but these are houses of worship, the "sister" churches that face each other in the Irish Channel. While this one is especially effective, there is a gaudy, kitschy quality about most, a tendency especially evident in Hillside Halloween Fantasy, a spooky array of Mansardic Victorian mansions, examples of the Charles Addams school of domestic design. His luridly lacy style makes for an engaging leitmotif that can be a little too light and frothy. Yet many of those same elements appear in Portrait of Lucretia Lamourcourt, a stylized view of a long-necked woman, raven hair in a baroque beehive, clutching a flower. Rolling hills and a fantasy castle undulate in the background, and here all of the kitschy elements conspire into something surreal in an almost classically French manner, cheesy but autonomous, a higher octave of kitsch. Most peculiar. Many of Hawkins' paintings have an offhand quality about them, but Lucretia reveals an intensity and integrity that makes it an iconic image, something that is quite simply something, about which little more need be said.

click to enlarge Christy Kane's photograph  Callalily Pines  tells - the story of an aspiring pianist whose accident leads to - tragic results and the pining for a lost dream.
  • Christy Kane's photograph Callalily Pines tells the story of an aspiring pianist whose accident leads to tragic results and the pining for a lost dream.
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Speaking of Through August, Christy Kane And Jason Hawkins: DOLL COUNTRY USA

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