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Review: The Artist’s Muse and Monstrous Diabolics 

Weird America in works by Jim Sohr, Sean Starwars and others

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One of the more enduring art world myths is that right-wing presidents provoke a backlash of creative bohemianism. Dubious at best, it is doubly dicey if the president is stranger than Salvador Dali and more nihilistic than the Dadaists. But American gothic weirdness has long lurked in small towns like Waukesha, Wisconsin, from which a young misfit named Jim Sohr fled to New Orleans in the 1960s. Legal indiscretions landed him in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, where he took up art and became the visionary he is today. Some of his older works included in the show reveal how only a modern Hieronymus Bosch from Green Bay Packers cheesehead country could have anticipated the madness we now face. Reflecting an aesthetic shaped more by Wurlitzer jukeboxes than Picasso, Plugs (pictured) previews a retro-futurist America where electronic aliens inhabit massive warehouses in a painting that predated and internet conspiracies about UFOs and the New World Order. In Birds and Ladies, lonely blonds with haunted eyes populate a scene that presaged white middle American alienation, and in 3 Greens, pointy-eared space aliens have taken over grandma's bedroom. Once thought impossibly otherworldly, Sohr's visionary views have, over time, become increasingly, if disturbingly, familiar.

  Laurel, Mississippi, artist laureate Sean Starwars' elaborate woodcut prints long have been inspired by the sensationalist sensibilities that, along with guns and Bibles, define the middle American mindset. Now that all of the above have come raging to the forefront of the news cycle, his more boldly lurid new prints such as Robot, a kind of demonic automaton from hell, seem more relevant than ever. His Single Mothers print with wolfmen ogling flirtatious rabbit-women is a sign of the times, while Toilet Devil captures Bible Belt America's freak-show soul in psychedelic Mexican colors that are perfect for a period when anti-Hispanic politicians seem intent on turning America into a banana republic.


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