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Pipe dreams 

A standout in DesignBox's group cartoon show

click to enlarge "Tree House Blues," (2007) by Emily Cash. Pen and ink on clayboard, acrylic. 3 ft. x 1.2 ft. - PHOTO COURTESY OF EMILY CASH
  • Photo Courtesy of Emily Cash
  • "Tree House Blues," (2007) by Emily Cash. Pen and ink on clayboard, acrylic. 3 ft. x 1.2 ft.

Paul Friedrich did an excellent job curating DesignBox Gallery's current exhibition Low Pop, The South's Greatest Cartoonists. Actually, he's outdone himself—the contributions of Adam Cohen, Greg Clayton, Jodi Hoover and especially Emily Cash overpower his own headlining Onion Head Monster paintings. Onion Head Monster, a frenzied concoction of Dada attitude, low-brow humor and gutter-punk aesthetics, has always been of limited appeal to a specific audience. Seeing the Monster in polychrome on canvas does make for more palatable viewing. Solid colors serve to anchor graphic creations that are otherwise muddled in newsprint, and, more significantly, the one-panel format tends to better suit Friedrich's comic timing than the extended comic strip. Still, hackneyed references to malt liquor culture seem firmly dated to the early '90s—what year did The Beastie Boys' Check Your Head come out?—and not likely to produce much snorting laughter beyond the frat house.

If you blew the cobwebs out of novelist J.G. Ballard's ear they might resemble the drawings of Emily Cash, which, considering their number and superb quality, handily steal the show from Friedrich's fatigued and excessively merchandised Onion Head Monster. On her medium-sized panels she stretches the conception of cartooning to create a strange synthesis of organic and metallic—one is reminded of the intense vitality found in the urban slums of megalopoli like Mexico City or Jakarta.

It's hard to tell if Cash is suggesting utopian or dystopian panoramas, or simply laying out the mindscape of the 21st century urbanite, or, most provocatively, all three. The clues are sometimes disturbing, as in "People in Hangers," a kudzu-like composition which is amply described by its title.

Cash's offerings to Low Pop are skewered and darkly humorous, but lacking much by way of the macabre, a quality that is more prominent in a recent showing of her work as part of Ackland Art Museum's New Currents in Contemporary Art, an MFA thesis exhibition. At the Ackland exhibit, Cash was aspiring towards a more personal, biological and interpretive exploration of human anatomy: a take on the micro rather than the macro. Here the organic seems mechanized—the inverse of the approach taken in the Low Pop works.

One might wonder if Cash has been inspired by the plasticized corpse craze that seems hell-bent on penetrating the mainstream American market. Probably not. More likely, Cash seems to be attuned to a particular contemporary aesthetic that has yet to be mined to depletion, or at least still appears fresh outside of European cultural centers. The area should consider itself lucky to host her talent.

Low Pop: The South's Greatest Cartoonists will be on display at DesignBox Gallery through May 30. Call 834-3552 or visit www.designbox.us for more information. A degree of force is required to open the gallery's door, which may appear to be locked.

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