‘Pop Press’ finds beauty in the bizarre

Thunder-Sky, Inc.'s current exhibit is inspired by graphic designer Scott Bruno’s collection of offbeat but absolutely real articles, photos, advertisements, TV listings and fliers.

Jun 28, 2017 at 1:08 pm

click to enlarge Jamie Pearson’s “Secrets of Freemasonry” - Photo: Provided
Photo: Provided
Jamie Pearson’s “Secrets of Freemasonry”
Before weird news was something to click, it was something to clip. Graphic designer Scott Bruno’s collection of offbeat but absolutely real articles, photos, advertisements, TV listings and fliers is the inspiration for Pop Press, the new Thunder-Sky, Inc. exhibit. It riffs on truth being stranger than fiction and recognizes that some oddity runs through each of us. 

Bruno started saving unusual items from community newspapers, circulars and other sources in the 1980s and continued until he could no longer keep up with the internet’s ability to dispense weirdness. His ephemera include an article reporting the mood-boosting properties of old women’s body odor, a tract about the Freemasons, a picture of a man who could happily crack walnuts all afternoon and a classified ad offering 100 “perfectly harmless and loveable” African hissing cockroaches for free to a good home. 

Eighteen artists, including first-time curator Bruno, selected a prompt from his files. Their responses to the strangeness are surreal, satirical, political, laugh-out-loud funny and surprisingly sweet.  

Thunder-Sky regular Emily Brandehoff chose an article about a disturbed Hamilton man who pleasured himself with an inflatable Halloween pumpkin, and she treats his tale with both sensitivity and humor. “Rubber Ducky, You’re the One” depicts him as sort of an innocent storybook character, proposing to a jack-o’-lantern pail on bended knee while wearing a flamingo pool toy. 

With similar tenderness, Bruno honors the walnut-loving senior citizen with a screen print of 87 gray and golden walnuts, “one for each year of his life.” 

Stop the (pop) presses for Tom Strohmaier’s “Concise History of Crispy Hexagons.” In 12 hilarious panels, Strohmaier leads visitors through the making of the oddly named generic breakfast cereal. He begins with mathematician Pythagoras, because “the mere mention adds credence and prestige to the concise history.” The tongue-in-cheek tour continues with truffle pigs sniffing out the right grains, NRA members shooting each hexagon out of a grid and fashion models overseeing quality control. The artist concludes that eating Crispy Hexagons means “better living through geometry.” 

With no pun intended, Thunder-Sky co-founder Keith Banner described the entire show as “crisp” during the opening reception. Along with Thunder-Snow, the Blizzard of 1978 tribute that opened this year’s season, Pop Press represents an intentional shift in the Northside gallery’s programming. After seven years of some sprawling and loosely defined shows built around Outsider Art, Banner and co-founder Bill Ross are refining what’s next. 

As they installed Thunder-Snow this winter, the pair described the process as bringing their basement upstairs. Last year the “Under-Sky” space hosted group shows from artists responding to calls to honor Prince and David Bowie. 

“They were just seen as ‘add-ons’ (or so we thought), little shindigs that were fun and sweet,” Banner wrote in a December email. “Now we’re going to utilize the concept of group shows and spiff that up a little bit, give a context and polish, but still keep the groove and funk.” 

The Prince tribute introduced Thunder-Sky to Jamie Pearson, a Punk-influenced artist who skewers the secrets of the Freemasons in the current show. Bruno brought in more new faces, including Christian Schmit and Michael Scheurer, who both recently had solo shows at the Weston Art Gallery, and Lola Dupre.

A subject like a music icon, a blizzard or weird news helps that process, Banner said, “because it’s not focused on art about art, or art about status, but art about life — things everyone shares in, experiences that are then crafted through art into community.”

At one time, the newspaper was the community’s place to reach out. But in her “Power of Makeup 2.0” video, Cincinnati native Rachel Rampleman builds a new community. Faces of women and men, half-done in makeup, flash on a screen, and we notice that they’re all attractive whether their flaws are covered or not. 

Pop Press and Thunder-Sky find beauty in the bizarre. 

POP PRESS is on exhibit through Aug. 4 at Thunder-Sky, Inc., 4573 Hamilton Ave., Northside. More info: raymondthundersky.org