Several pieces from the exhibit "Ditzy Stardust" by Faith Gay. The works in plastic and ink are currently showing at the Cactus Bra gallery in the Blue Star Arts Complex. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

Faith Gay wouldn't know how to paint between the lines

Anyone who has had a good dose of psychedelic mushrooms will feel a jolt of familiarity at first sight of Faith Gay's plastic pieces, on view at Cactus Bra gallery through October 31. Like a psychedelic trip, Gay's work is visually entertaining and leaves traces of insight in its wake. The ripples and explosions of candy pinks, browns, purples, and yellows are created by melting and assembling plastic beads into constellations that resemble organic and digital life forms. A bacterial culture blooms on one wall, beautiful and slightly alarming. On an adjacent surface, geometric shapes seem to disintegrate as they enter the atmosphere, trailing ever-smaller particles in a pattern that appears ordained by the laws of physics.

The hues are intrusive and borderline nauseating, reflecting the aesthetic purveyed by chain craft stores. It is part of Gay's ingeniousness to take the illusion of uniqueness and individuality promised by mass-produced, pre-coded, do-it-yourself materials, and paint outside the lines or, rather, obliterate them. The shapes look as if they have grown of their own accord, without human design. This illusion, combined with the suggestion of cellular colonies, brings to mind the way in which nature often upends our best-laid plans and ambitions, whether it's an unseen fault line deep below the surface, or an unforeseen genetic mutation in response to our biological tampering. Unchecked kitsch may be just as debilitating to our psyche as unguided scientific progress is to our ecosystem.

Gay's work has been described as redemptive, in large part because it transforms pre-defined objects, changing the rules of play for the materials and the craft. It may not redeem our subconscious assumptions and limitations as much as it thwarts them, foiling the societal drive to conform. That pressure to conform has useful biological underpinnings, and so must the anomaly. Since the Romantics, it has been art's expected role in Western culture to give visual voice to the exception that either proves the rule or brings down the old constructs in favor of new ones. Gay's work is multi-layered and interesting because, in a Romantic vein, it echoes the perceived language of nature to critique culture with its own fabrications.

The drawings in the show, made of ink on translucent herculene, are simultaneously engaging and off-putting. The colors are pastel versions of the plastic beads used in her wall installations, and the resulting saccharine palette is that of a 1950s homemaker's guide. As a whole, the checkerboard of miniature food items, plants, and miscellaneous domestic objects is suffocating in its resolute cheerfulness and calm. But look closer and eggs are little chickens, with the solemn purposefulness of cosmonauts. Drumsticks fan out in a pretty pink pinwheel, and a panoply of stuffed animals stares blankly forward. Maybe they're just darling. Maybe they also point out our drive to idolize and anthropomorphize the things we destroy. Why do we, as a poet observed many years ago at the Guadalupe Theater, call jeeps Cherokee and helicopters Apache?

In the end, Gay's work calls in to question our centuries-long ambition to remake the world in our fractious, generally shortsighted, image. If it all comes to mass-produced plastic beads in the 21st century, it's probably time to go back to the drawing board. •

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