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Enter the strange world of Michael Gaughan

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You know how in Being John Malkovich the characters are able to enter the famous actor’s subconscious and peek out into the world that he sees? That’s kind of like what happens in a series of watercolor works by by Michael Gaughan, except that instead of John Malkovich it’s a childlike painting of a person.

The six faces on exhibit, part of his exhibition, “Florescent Glaucoma in a Christmas Terrarium,” show eerily realistic eyes and mouths peering through child-like line paintings of disturbed-looking people. The effect is rather frightening; the realistic looking eyes and mouths look as if they are trapped inside the elementary faces. 

While the six faces are definitely the most startling works in the exhibition, there’s something unsettling about Gaughan’s body of work as a whole. Perhaps it’s the free dialogue he uses between realism and playful abstraction that, for some reason, creates an ominous effect.

In Hand Doing Eyes When I’m Looking at My Hand, Gaughan depicts photorealistic hand and wrist with eyes peering out of the side. While you could look at it as a kind of cute monster, it’s actually frightening because of how realistic it looks. The hand is paired with some blobby abstraction made with ink, and a little cloud floating beneath it. Vestiges of a dastardly deed perpetrated by the hand-person? Probably.

Even toast becomes sinister in Gaughan’s world. In Did you Burn it, Yeah…. aka… Yeah I Burned it … aka… Yeah Burnt, Gaughan paints a realistic looking knife and spot of jam paired with a black, amorphous piece of toast. The abstracted toast would not be as strange looking if it weren’t juxtaposed with the knife, which looks like it could be in some advertisement. And then there’s the splotches of red, which look like blood spots.

Two watercolors that stand in the window of the Burnet Gallery, Sippin’ when you’re Drinkin’ when you’re going for a Lake-Run and Chompin’ when you’re Chewin’ when you’re going for a Studio Visit, merge realism with a voyeuristic take on the presence of cell phone cameras in contemporary life. In the former, a young woman stands on a dock drinking from a water bottle, a picturesque lake behind her, but with two yellow squares showing two people seemingly taking photographs of her. The latter piece shows a grotesque image of a man chowing down on a sandwich, a man in the background photographing him with his phone, while another man stuffs his face behind him and a blond woman looks on. Both images use different layers to evoke framing of the casual scenes, creating a sense of occasion to mundane experiences.

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IF YOU GO:

Florescent Glaucoma in a Christmas Terrarium

Through August 30

Burnet Gallery

901 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis.

Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and by appointment.