Screw Dance, Let's Art!

At Outsiders and Others Gallery, a group of local rockers make music for your eyes

My exhibit guide has different feelings about Saira Huff's "Total Crap" line, which is conveniently located in the gallery's center. Huff, an ex-member of Detestation, Resolved, and Faggot, designs dresses that combine '50s chiffon-draped glamour with agro, chicken-shack punk, but her fashions were meant for a model even more svelte and exhibitionistic than Venus. There's no way Hart could fit into them. Plus, he doesn't look good in wire mesh, which makes up the bulk of Total Crap III, where six thick strips of it are held in place by a few synthetic fabric straps with silver rings. "These dresses are great," Hart offers, "but I think they'd be better served by live models. The mannequins don't do them justice."

Before he can dematerialize again, I grab Hart by the ponytail and lead him to Ten Extra Pounds drummer David Witt's silkscreens. Witt's mixed-media and ink-on-paper originals combine punk panache with an illustrator's careful sense of composition, and his posters represent the art of rock at its most utilitarian: They're all show-specific. "This is advertising art," Hart observes of a large Guided by Voices poster. "I've done plenty of it in my day, but I've usually taken the easy way out, using found images. This definitely merits the signing and numbering."

Witt may be the odd man out in this exhibition: With the exception of Jon Sweere's sole piece, Jon's Bass, which Hart and I don't get a chance to comment on because Sweere is playing it, Witt's work offers the only direct references to music. But, as Hart explains, the rock/art interface often works in more subtle ways. "You noticed how Venus's drawings were on notebook paper and were almost obsessively detailed?" he asks as we stroll toward Hart's own found-art pieces. "I'm guessing that he did them all on the road, like I did with these assemblages when I was in Nova Mob. Touring gives you a lot of time for making art, but you have to work with whatever's close at hand. Anywhere you hang your hat is your studio."

Sadly, after this picture was taken, the beaded  squid monster slithered off the platter and devoured Grant Hart's head
Sean Smuda
Sadly, after this picture was taken, the beaded squid monster slithered off the platter and devoured Grant Hart's head

Hart picks up one of his creations, Berry Ring, a long, many-tiered strand of rusty nuts strung on bass strings; it resembles a primitive ritual fetish object, complete with a gold-paint-slathered artificial holly and dinky red fruits. "[Nova Mob bassist] Tommy Merkl broke a lot of strings, and after a while I found myself naturally spotting discarded hardware," he says. "Plus, every now and then, I'd happen upon a layer of discarded auto parts and really make a killing."

Hart's work is definitely the most media-varied in "The Art of Rock." In addition to his three-dimensional work, he's represented by an action-style, spray-paint-and-water portrait of his old friend William Burroughs, as well as a trio of collages. We sidle up to a piece called Stones that juxtaposes rows of semiprecious minerals with carefully laid transparencies that show human anatomy, primarily viscera and muscle. "I used to buy multiple copies of old World Book encyclopedias at thrift shops," Hart says. "Invariably, different years would have the same illustrations, but in different sizes."

Then Hart switches back to Houdini mode. "Let's go outside and smoke."

Maybe that's how I end up out here in the parking lot, right back where I started. As the night's time-loop progression creeps up on me, I find myself thinking that Hart's constructions and collages exemplify his fractalized perception of space and time. Yesterday's rusty nuts, gems, and innards from long-discarded tomes become the tentacles of today. No matter what medium Hart is working in, he makes a habit of dragging the past into the present and presenting it in new ways. Frankie Avalon could never have sung "Venus" to a lanky androgyne--at least not in public. And Al Jolson never could have imagined that an exotically attired punk veteran might break into a near-perfect version of "Latin from Manhattan" nearly 70 years after he made it a hit.

Suddenly, the question I first pondered while wishing for fireflies comes back to me. I know what Hart omitted from "Manhattan": its final three syllables. I flatter myself by imagining that this realization is a reward for my hand-drumming performance, and I could be right. Though Hart never needs a straight man, he's always grateful for a second banana. And the talkative artist himself would tell you that the last word--any last word--is a rare gift indeed. So even though everyone else is out of earshot, I take my cue. Softly, I shout, "Velveeta!" All around me, the mosquitoes start glowing.

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