PRINT November 1998


Jim Shaw

Jim Shaw is a Los Angeles-based artist represented by Metro Pictures in New York. A collection of his drawings, Dreams, was published in 1995 (Smart Art Press). In addition to his work as an artist, he served as the animation director for Nightmare on Elm Street 4, in which he also played the part of a teenage soul escaping from the neck of the just decapitated Freddy Krueger.


    Miss Velma’s Bicentennial extravaganza, Christmas in America, is the most amazing piece of video I’ve ever seen. Existing at the low-budget end of Aimee Semple McPherson’s LA-based Christian spectacle tradition, she’s been putting on glitter-encrusted performances for decades. In this, her masterwork, all manner of poetry, song, and theatrics is enacted on tinsel-draped sets. In the crowning segment, Miss Velma does a Native American dance in a red, white, and blue headdress, shoots out balloons at forty paces with a pistol, and plays a carol on a pen-organ. A one-woman variety show for Jesus.


    It’s hard to imagine a more godforsaken place than Slab City, California, at the southern end of the festering Salton Sea. Yet this is home to Salvation Mountain and its creator, Leonard Knight, who lives in his ancient hand-decorated truck and works in an igloo built of adobe, the same material used in his monument. Coated with innumerable layers of housepaint to keep it gleaming under the boiling desert sun, the awe-inspiring work bears a resemblance to early Oldenburgs in the details, which are all you see as you clamber across its surface, surrounded by Bible quotes and the Sinner’s Prayer. All of the local government’s attempts to raze it only focused more attention on Knight’s message, his only goal. It seems fitting that, after he’s gone, the mountain, like flesh, will gradually return to the dust from which it was created.


    On the LP Tell Me a Story, Aunt B, you’ll find the most chilling children’s tales ever recorded for unsuspecting Protestants. “The Golden Age” tells of a rebellious boy wishing for adult freedoms forced to view a future of wage slavery, his mother’s demise, and his eventual feebleness and death. “Sorry Is as Sorry Does” tells of a naughty boy named Sorry who ignores his mother’s cautions about making prank phone calls, shoots his playmate with his dad’s revolver, and prays for redemption with his doubtful mom, played by the aging and malevolent Aunt B.


    It’s difficult to choose the best Jack Chick comic. Early tracts, like “One Way,” are endearingly perverse and have a purity lost when artist Fred Carter gave the later comics their slick veneer. However, Carter did pump up the latent sadomasochistic, Tom of Finland-esque aspects. The “Alberto” series features a hunky, biracial duo of Christian Crusaders as they listen to the paranoid ravings of an escaped Jesuit who testifies to the horrors of the Catholic church. Alberto’s delineation of a Baal-worship-based papal conspiracy to send all Bible believers to Hell, steal the Holy Land from the Jews, murder Lincoln, start the Communist and Nazi parties, send phony Christians to steal his sister, and poison his dental work puts this one over the top. It’s also pushed Chick further out of the fundamentalist mainstream, his anti-Catholic vehemence making him a pariah, and only reinforcing his paranoia.


    The high point of Rev. Ethan Acres’s debut show at Patty Faure Gallery wasn’t the rotating multihorned “Lamb of God” or his beautiful “Highway Chapel,” but a moment that occurred after his Sunday morning sermon. While Acres performed blessings of expectedly ironic things (master tapes, a poodle, Christian kitsch), another, clearly sincere, Christian artist came up, tears streaming down his cheeks, overjoyed to find a kindred soul. Here was an intersection one doesn’t expect in postmodern art, a collision of faith and artifice.

  6. AWAKE!

    When Awake! updated its look, I was upset the magazine had yielded to the relentless forces of progress, until I realized it was still ten years behind the times and continued to distill its images to render perfect archetypes: drug addict, worried teen, Beast of the Apocalypse. The system of distribution (in whatever laundromat or bus station you’re stuck in) is genius.


    The pivotal character in Larry Clark’s film Another Day In Paradise is a gun-peddling preacher played by James Otis who takes the wounded protagonist and his adopted family of drug-dealing thieves into his guarded compound. Embodying a frightening set of opposites and taking on some of his young charge’s sexual uncertainty and severity allow him an authority that eludes laughter.


    I once found a pile of hand-tinted silkscreened images from the Book of Revelations pictorialized in what seemed to be an easy-to-understand way—if you had the long-gone interpretations of the preacher who used them to explain the mysterious final Gospel. Later l learned that V.T. Houteff, their creator, was the founder of the “Shepherd’s Rod,” which evolved into the church we now call the Branch Davidians.


    The most anomalous Christian instructional artworks I’ve found are the Bethel series. Painted around 1960 by Walter Ohlson in a Surrealist/advertising style, these allegorical works use some suspiciously New Agey icons, like rainbows, to convey their meanings, elaborated in discussion guides whose exactitude lessens, unfortunately, the mystery of the images.


    Chester Brown, today’s greatest comic artist, has been rendering the Gospels in the back of his Yummy Fur and Underwater. They came as a perplexing contrast to the wild scatological content of Ed, the Happy Clown, the main serialized story. As he began to chart stories from his personal experiences, the Gospels became stranger, the characters reflecting the contradictory nature of Jesus—okay, maybe I can’t explain the appeal of these works, maybe as a nonbeliever in a Puritan-based culture there’s some combination of vicarious piety and guilty Christian recidivism involved in my fascination with them.