Los Angeles

Megan Williams

Carl Berg Gallery

In Purge (all works 2008), a new work by Megan Williams that was the centerpiece of the artist’s third solo show at Carl Berg Gallery, several dozen cartoon drawings of the laugh-till-you-cringe ilk are pinned all over a soft mannequin slumped in a chair. Collectively, the sketches form a suit of armor created by the artist spilling her guts, taking the idea of wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve to an absurd extreme. The work also suggests that, like the invisible man we see only by way of bandages wrapped around him, the figure’s form is really all surface.

This kind of thought stew also informs Williams’s wall drawings, works on paper, and works in oil and charcoal on linen. Brain Invaded, for example, shows a giant figure threatened by a mudslide and a careering tanker truck, pummeled by baseballs-turned-meteors, and under attack from dark knights. Forging an identity by turning the inner outward is the defining characteristic of Williams’s practice, but she replaces the tell-all slashes of the expressionist with a cartoonist’s careful lines, and substitutes the goofy for the surreal, effecting what is indeed a kind of expressionism, but one that is as self-effacing and comic as it is assertive and heroic.

This exhibition combined two key modes of Williams’s practice. The first, more familiar of late, is a contemplative, optimistic, and sometimes lighthearted approach. Williams is the artist behind images of a skateboarding grandma, after all, of a woman leaping into the air in a moment of girlish empowerment, and of a boy flexing as he tries to snap a wishbone. The other strategy, dominant in this exhibition, is an exploitation of the cartoon format’s affinity for suggesting violence and angst via humor. In Untitled (Building Escaping), an anthropomorphized apartment tower takes foot, struggling to escape a city block so congested that it resembles a rubbish heap. Another work, Untitled (Building Afire), shows a high-stepping high-rise attempting to run from the fire that engulfs it but fanning the flames by so doing. And in Untitled (Cityscape), buildings try to keep their heads above water as a city floods. Elsewhere, a mouse-man—seen only from the rear but suspiciously familiar with his bulbous shoes, four-fingered gloves, and round black ears—envelops himself in an arc of fire as he tosses a Molotov cocktail.

It would be a stretch to connect these works to specific events, but in a world in which IEDs, rising ocean waters, urban blight, and terrorist attacks all fuel our collective anxiety, there’s no mistaking that Williams’s images, while fantastic and fairy-taleish in their specifics, are quite the opposite in their tenor and implications. Williams makes us wish we were kids again, causing us to long for a state of giggling innocence and an escape from the images’ darker inclusions.

Christopher Miles