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'We’re in a Cult' celebrates the artist as outsider

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Artists Noah Harmon, Mary Gibney and Jesse Draxler make up "We're in a Cult" at One on One Bicycle Studio.

“Personally, if you’re not an outsider, you shouldn’t be a [fricking] artist. Like, do something else if you don’t feel like you’re set apart from other people. What have you got to say that’s different from other people? You have to be different to be an artist, because otherwise, what’s the point?” said Minneapolis interdisciplinary artist Jesse Draxler, squeezed into a booth at the CC Club recently with fellow artists Noah Harmon and Mary Gibney.

The three kindred-spirited artists make up “We’re in a Cult,” an exhibition of original work that tangentially celebrates the artist as outsider. It opens Saturday and runs through April 4 at One on One Bicycle Studio in downtown Minneapolis.

“I think you take in information a little bit differently,” said Harmon of how the artist travels the world. “I can wear a buttoned-up shirt and go into any situation, but I process things maybe differently than other people, and take that information and make something out of it. Like today I was in my studio, just painting light bulbs to look like ducks, and to me that just made total sense. Because for me the whole idea of this show is ‘lighten up, loosen up, have fun all the time.’ ”

“I don’t feel like an outsider, really, as far as the rest of the world,” said Gibney. “We all relate to people; I wouldn’t want to say we’re in this exalted group. But I do agree that you take in stuff differently, and you’re intrigued by different things that other people might not get. Any of the three of us could take any random object from this bar and make something out of it.”

All three artists are reluctant to pigeonhole their latest show with words, though all agree a sense of humor and creepiness are at the heart of the work.

“Art is kind of hard to pin down, which is why we chose this theme,” said Gibney. “Art is kind of like being in a cult. In Noah’s case, a lot of it is heads. Long lines of heads, big piles of heads. And then he puts heads and words together, and it’s kind of creepy, or just … it gives me a little thrill.”

“Noah’s work makes me uncomfortable a lot of times, and I like that,” said Draxler. “And I think that’s what us three might have in common, as well. Like Mary’s work is beautiful, but unsettling a little.”

Starting Saturday, the One on One walls will be filled with all sorts of beautifully unsettling images, including Harmon’s freakily rendered portraits of losers, Draxler’s noir take on the human psyche and Gibney’s paintings of wrestlers, criminals and sideshow freaks and workers.

“I like to look at creepy things, but I want to paint them beautifully, too,” said Gibney. “I want to give them dignity and make them beautiful. When I first saw Noah’s stuff, I was like, ‘Oh my god, I love this.’ But could I tell you exactly why I love it? You just know you like it, and you don’t try to intellectualize it or interpret it with art theory or bullshit that people think has to be behind your work.”

“I think we all have in common not trying to over-intellectualize our art,” said Draxler. “It’s just the doing it. ‘We’re in a Cult’ is just a name we chose from a list that Noah had, and from there, we all just respond to the name. I think we wrote what it’s about after we had the name. We almost had to make the name work.”

“It’s perfect, but can we tell you why? Not really,” said Gibney.

Maybe it’s better, then, to let the show’s promotional blurb do the art-'splaining:

Themes explored include extreme mental states, unconventional ideas, and elaborate fantasy worlds. Kool-Aid will be provided.

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