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‘Heavy Petting’ at Fox Tax Gallery: an eccentric, appealing new show

Thanks to my day job, I spend a lot of time combing through work by local artists. As a result, my web browser is jam-packed with bookmarked art — things I find particularly striking, unusually well-done, and sometimes, just the appealingly weird.

Minneapolis artist Rob McBroom is one of those whose artwork I’ve had earmarked for a number of years now. His paintings and sculptures are a raw, trippy fusion of cyber-punk imagery, sly anti-establishment commentary, and strangely morphed robo-critters. But, even though I was familiar with his earlier work, I found myself unprepared for the polish and sheer spectacle of his new pieces, now on view at Fox Tax Gallery.

“Heavy Petting” is a series of twelve large mixed-media panels by McBroom, each one an illustration of a stanza from Edward Lear’s fanciful 1871 poem, “The Owl and the Pussycat.” It’s a strange, winsome children’s lit classic that the artist says has been a favorite of his since childhood.

Heavy Petting
Courtesy of the artist and Fox Tax Gallery

The visual impact of McBroom’s “Owl and Pussycat” narrative paintings — the gestural confidence of the lines, the vivid color, and the intricate layering of paint with small bits of crafty bric-a-brac, plastic toys, and personal ephemera — is immediate and intense.

What sneaks up on you though, is the wit behind the artist’s surreal imagery and many-layered effects. McBroom has peppered each of panels, indeed he has created many of his figures, by way of a dense arrangement of appropriated corporate logos for products and media consumed around the world (e.g. NBC, Word Girl, Thums Up! cola, X-Files). (I tend to agree with Gregory Scott’s pithy characterization; writing for Vita.mn, he describes the work as having “the aggravating feel of a Highlights magazine hidden picture page.”)

The mix of symbols and figures in these pieces is frenetic, to be sure; and the nuances of meaning may get a bit lost from time to time in the jumble. But McBroom pulls it off anyway, I think, in spite of (maybe thanks to) the visual density of each piece. I found myself entranced by knots of meaning and form, compelled to keep looking and somehow sure there was, actually, something coherent underneath it all for me to find. And the use of the owl and the pussycat to tie this strange, free-association mélange together? Well, that’s just a stroke of nonsensical genius.

McBroom’s an artist whose new work deserves your up-close attention, lest you miss some of his painstaking details. You can see a few digital scans of the work online here, but it’s worth a trip to the gallery to peruse these pieces in person.

“Heavy Petting: New Works by Rob McBroom” is on view in the Gallery at Fox Tax in Minneapolis through Dec. 31.

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