This Art Show Takes the Cake

Thunder-Sky Gallery's "You're Invited" celebrates birthday parties with depictions of cakes — some very unusual depictions of cakes

click to enlarge One of Bill Ross' propaganda cakes - PHOTO: Bob Scheadler
PHOTO: Bob Scheadler
One of Bill Ross' propaganda cakes

Ready for a treat? You’re Invited at Thunder-Sky, Inc. gallery in Northside will fill you up with birthday memories, humor and food for thought.

Gallery co-founder Bill Ross, painter Harry Sanchez Jr. and Sharon Butler of O’Bryonville’s BonBonerie bakery have thrown a party where both the personal and the political have a seat. A cake is a symbol of goodness that also can be used for evil. Demagogues know that if they offer just one sweet morsel, the audience will eat up every falsehood that follows.

Thankfully, everything that these three artists present comes from a place of truth — particularly Ross’ “propaganda cake” paintings.

Troubled by the 2016 presidential election, Ross spent the last year producing 13 poster-like canvases that serve up enticing cakes layered with Russian and totalitarian images. The many flames atop one dessert meet in a tip that resembles a turret on Red Square. Other works pair candles and cakes with Soviet stars, a tank, an anvil and a single word such as “torture” or “win.”

“I’m not a political person,” Ross says of his artmaking. “I’m just an absurdist and I wanted to be absurd.” Yet he has given us a baker’s dozen that’s absolutely delicious.

Sanchez, a baker-turned-artist who now puts oil paint instead of icing inside piping bags, has created a similar series of “sheet cakes” that transform the symbols of the alt-right movement into decorations that are sickeningly sweet. Disturbed by the violence last year in Charlottesville, Va., Sanchez has chosen to tweak the white supremacists who sugar-coat their hate when they present their racist organizations as social clubs and fraternities. He borrows from their playbook by concocting his own rich lies.

“You want to touch the ‘icing,’ ” the artist says as he lays out the metaphor between his art and the marchers’ propaganda. “You want to consume it without realizing what’s actually underneath. It’s about what’s on top. As beautiful as it looks, it’s fake.”

Sanchez continues to skewer alternative facts in the exhibit guide. Both of the tiniest cakes in his installation are titled “The Largest Painting Ever Witnessed in Real Life or on Social Media. PERIOD!”

But Butler’s celebration of the birthday centerpiece takes visitors back to the pure innocence of childhood. Her colorful totem poles of Styrofoam cakes recognize the one special day that, ideally, each of us can claim as our own.

Butler notes that her own birthday on Jan. 2 not only falls immediately after Christmas and New Year’s, but while growing up she also had to share a party with her brother, who was born Jan. 4. Nevertheless, the birthday is “the handmade holiday,” she says. “You cherish that someone would actually make something with their hands for you.”

Butler has collected birthday memories from friends, employees and customers for years. At the gallery, “you’re invited” to provide your own traditions on a questionnaire and draw a version of the cake you always had while growing up. Perhaps it was lovingly whipped up by a grandmother, set atop the washing machine to cool and then adorned with a Barbie doll or just the stubs of candles that were saved from a sibling’s cake months before.

“Simple things telling a really big story — that’s what my whole profession has been,” Butler says. “And I still haven’t tired of the story that’s told through a cake.”

You’re Invited continues through April 6 at Thunder-Sky Inc., 4573 Hamilton Ave., Northside. More info: