Los Angeles

Thaddeus Strode

1301 Gallery

Thaddeus Strode employs the Zenned-Out-Euphoric-Get-Stupid Principle to great comic effect. It is a way of thinking/not thinking, of messing with one’s playthings, that’s often misunderstood. Strode’s objects respond to the critical dig “Not going to learn anything big here” with a “You’re damn right and to hell with you”. But the work isn’t that rude. It’s kind of friendly and only demands close attention in order to charm and babble, not reprimand or elucidate. It’s a modest and astute body of work, loaded with and simultaneously drained of possibilities. Strode wants you to believe, to get caught up; half way there “you smell the coffee”—his illusory prank—but the fun jitters on.

Strode’s ten miniature dioramas (all approximately two feet square, with the exception of one circle, 17 inches in diameter, perched on raw-plywood pedestals) are one man’s commitment to experimentation and chance (mental combustion), in which content is arrived at, ridiculed, and undermined, but with an obscure respect for possible meaning. In Brain Capers: Out of the Organ Box . . Into the Organ (all works 1992), a little plastic man runs out of a burning shack into a yard of bent telephone poles while ant-sized workmen, glued to the roof and walls, pursue him. In Brain Capers: King of Oblivion (Olfactory Bulb), a half-naked, cross-legged, meditating, comic-strip-cut-out man hovers over a toy businessman. The assembly of materials, whacked-out scenarios, and sly political undertow mocks the seeming coherence and uselessness of the work. Social purpose becomes a symbol of a state control that is embodied in the viewer’s position: “How do I activate these static toys, get them drunk, make them pay taxes?” Strode’s models of cryptic utterance and epiphany are quiet declarations of auto-amusement.

In Brain Capers: An Empty House (Ever, Everglades), eight reddish heads, resembling the deranged faces of a gang of Mr. Hyde types in mid drool, spring out on wires from a tiny shed, planted in the middle of a rank landscape of string, driedglue, and assorted muck. In one corner of the blighted terrain, next to a micropatch of greenery, a sign reads, “and within minutes the stage of the everglades is host to yet another drama . . . this one played to an empty house.”

In Brain Capers: Shedding Skin four cardboard-snake aliens with identical human heads form a semicircle to scrutinize two male comic-strip cutouts performing physiological love theater. One man is mounted on the other like a horse, tugging on his hair as if it were reins. The bottom figure imitates a hoof canter with his hands. Three of the snake bodies rise up out of a psychedelic Astroturf ground like thick cactus stumps. With their heads tilted in an exaggerated-confusion pose, like a pack of prissy asexual ghouls, the aliens observe the humans in pained wonderment. Or so it seems.

The strength and pleasure of Strode’s cerebral quest comes from his ability to free things up, his confidence in combining preposterous elements—in Brain Capers: Belly Crawlin’ on Refined Sugar, a Surfing Story, three ultra-tiny-bikini boys, musical instruments in hand, jam on a desert of brown sugar letting mysterious objects and cryptic utterances build and play off each other. Strangely leading signals hang out in a stilted narrative—fertile ground for a sorrowful brain. It’s a fresh and appealing esthetic in which absurdity rules and rocks, saying, eat me, I love you, and if your hands are cold don’t pray for me because I’m too busy having fun.

Benjamin Weissman