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Printmaking, the Pink Hobo, and the economics of art

I'm predisposed to liking an exhibit that has a print called "Fat Lincoln Doesn't Want You Biking on His Grass." The illustration is by Mitch Loidolt, and is exactly what it describes: a cartoonish rendition of the silhouette of our 16th president, menacing what looks to be a bicyclist on a fixie. I once bought a portrait of Lincoln, sort of — it was a print of Benjamin Franklin showing off his newest invention to other framers of the constitutions, and that invention was a robot Lincoln. There's something about Honest Abe that makes him a particularly good subject for this sort of nonsense.

"Fat Lincoln" is on display at Pink Hobo, part of what is mostly a collection of prints, with some original paintings, by two local artists, some of which I will detail in a moment. Minneapolis is a printmaking town, which is a mixed blessing. It's become easy enough for artists to create high-quality prints of their original art, often in a limited run, numbered and signed by the artists, and sold for $30 or thereabouts. It's all terrific for the consumer, because it makes art available and inexpensive, which has long been a goal of printmaking.

It can be a bit of a boon to the artists as well, because, hey, $30. But I can't help but wonder if it isn't also generally driving the prince of fine art down, and creating a community so saturated with these sorts of prints that most collectors get their fill pretty quickly, after only spending a few hundred dollars. There is, after all, only so much wall space in the average house or apartment.

I spoke with one of Pink Hobo's founders, Vincent Stall, and he admitted that, were it not for the gallery's affiliated business, the PUNY design film, they could not stay open. As it is, the gallery is rarely open, usually for events such as these, and they'll open their doors if somebody calls, or wanders by during work hours. It may merely be that Pink Hobo hasn't developed the sort of rolodex of big spenders that bigger galleries have, and they don't sell $30,000 works of art either; there are probably some galleries in town that do have such a rolodex, and such art, and do fine.

But when you head out on an art crawl, the average crawler isn't looking to drop a grand or 10, but a few hundred at most, which isn't enough to support a single artist, much less a community of artists. I wonder what the process is for converting such dilettante collectors into people who are willing to make a real financial commitment to a single piece of art. But, then, I don't know how you go about paying actors, or bar bands, or independent filmmakers — they all sort of scramble for a limited pool of funds, and most work day jobs to get by. Maybe that's just the way of art — for all but a few it will always be an avocation.

I can't help but think this is sort of a pity, though. There was a moment, years ago, when I realized I make more as an art critic than most artists make doing their art — certainly more than I make as a playwright, which I'm, by most standards, pretty successful at. But when you consider how many critics haven't a clue about the subject of their criticism — and goodness knows I might be among them — this seems topsy-turvy.

Well, I'm don't have an answer to this, except to point people to art I think is worth investigating and hope that they spend money. The Pink Hobo show, titled "The Itch That Burns," would be an example of this. I hate to keep applying the phrases "lowbrow art" and "pop surrealism" to things, because it's just sort of a general descriptor of art that takes its influence from pop culture, advertising art, and subcultures like hot rodders and tattoo artists. But the truth is, I don't have a better descriptor, and a lot of the printmaking done in the Twin Cities seems to fit this description.

Detail from "The Uninvited" by Brett Von Schlosser
MinnPost photo by Max Sparber
Detail from "The Uninvited" by Brett Von Schlosser

Here's an example: There are several pieces by Brett Von Schlosser that are directly inspired by, and may have been used to advertise, very trashy movies that have played at the Trylon Microcinema in the past few months. Schlosser has an appealing style his prints often almost have the quality of a woodcut, in which the subjects of the illustration are rendered in bold shapes and colors. And so he has a print based on a film called "The Uninvited," an absolutely preposterous 1988 horror film starring George Kennedy. The film tells of a housecat that stows away on a yacht; the cat has been infected with a genetically engineered virus that causes him to do … something strange. Maybe he turns himself inside out. Maybe he just vomits up a redder, meaner cat. Whatever is going on, a lot of people die. Schlosser has represented this by showing a blueish black cat disgorging a smaller, wrinkled, fanged red cat. And there is more artistry in Von Schlosser's piece than in the whole of the movie that inspired it.

Detail from "Rodeo for Brutes" by Brett Von Schlosser
MinnPost photo by Max Sparber
Detail from "Rodeo for Brutes" by Brett Von Schlosser

But here's why my labels aren't especially good. Von Schlosser is also responsible for a rather striking painting. It's quite large and shows a group of men huddled in a public bathroom around a man on a toilet. The huddled men are distorted and shadowed, with arms crooked slightly, as though they were about to reach for the man on the toilet. He, in turn, has his head buried in his hands, as though he were weeping. It's a piece of extraordinary menace, titled "Rodeo for Brutes," and I was instantly drawn to it, in part because it's challenging. I could imagine buying it, and hanging it on my wall, and having friends demand to know why I owned and displayed something so disquieting. But sometimes art should be disquieting; it can't all be comic images of Abraham Lincoln.

The piece is just a few hundred dollars. I think it is underpriced.

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