Arts & Culture » Visual Art

Basement Delights

New works at Basement Gallery by Bill Carman, Ben Wilson and Will Kirkman


There is something irresistible about doodles. They are the direct evidence of doodling and doodling comes from a very mysterious place--the human mind at play.

In order to doodle successfully, you must not have too firm a preconception about what you're up to or why you're up to it. Spontaneity and invention are essential to the doodling spirit. You must also embrace the contingency and utter lack of necessity inherent to doodling. Adding wings to a very small loaf of bread you've just drawn isn't writing The Declaration of Independence.

The experienced doodle aficionado will be repelled by the generic cartoon face that has been drawn and redrawn over the course of thousands of telephone conversations without the slightest alteration. This makes a doodler angry at the world and tired. But a genuine doodle sparks delight, because the genuine doodle is mystery at the dosage level of delight.

Why the primer on doodling? Because for the months of January and February, artist and Boise State art professor Bill Carman is showing his work at Basement Gallery, and Carman has deftly incorporated the doodling spirit into his very distinctive illustrational style. Carman's work is irresistible in the way all things delightful are irresistible.Mainly because, why would you resist it?

As a master doodler, Carman's creations seem to find their form in the act of being created. Lines carry on where they might have been stopped. Details appear because of their seemingly instantaneous appropriateness. Each decision creates a new set of opportunities and in the end, there is a visual correctness and creative impression that is both unpretentious and exotic.

His current show, titled, "Blue Glass Circus Carnival," uses the fertile setting of a circus to dazzle, entertain and trouble. I say trouble, because Carman's work has a human face. While the creatures he draws are both creatures of cartoon and creations of doodling, they tend to have faces that smolder with Baroque emotion. I think of Georges De La Tour when I'm gazing back into the dark little eyes and powdery soft skin of one of Carman's melancholy beings.

Performers featured in the "Blue Glass Circus Carnival" include "The Amazing, Magnifical, Stupendiliferous, Incompreniacal, Wondermentiful, Bouncing, Bounding Bunny Man!" as well as the Burd Birper, Aqua Boy, Anabolic Arty and a Sword Swallower with a thong problem. One of my favorite pieces is a small diptych called Uh! Oh!. In the top panel, a single member of the circus audience looks up in horror exclaiming, "UH!," and in the bottom panel is joined by a group proclaiming, "OH!" Though we don't know for sure what circus tragedy they are witnessing, it wouldn't be going far out on a limb to say it could be the Nasal Aerialist succumbing to an allergy. A situation both entertaining and macabre.

Also worth mentioning is a portfolio of very affordable works by Carman, which for the collector on a budget should not be missed.

Also on exhibit for the months of January and February is the work of one of Carman's students and regular BW contributor Ben Wilson. Wilson offers up works from the fictional world of Professor Windmark's School of Flight. The setting is a kind of 1920s futuristic campus, and the characters are sweet idealists and daring inventors.

Text accompanies the show, as well as each of the individual pieces. We learn that a certain Chip Windmark, inspired by the success of the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, decides to devote his life to the idea of human flight. His ideas, however, are considered radical and unorthodox causing him to be rejected by many of his colleagues. So he opens his own school of flight, where the ambitious professor pushes his students to create effective machines for personal flight. Wilson writes, "He saw a future where each person in the world could get from here to there with their own personal flying machines."

The whole thing could potentially seem like a metaphor for an art professor like Bill Carman and his students, like Wilson. Wilson has taken some cues from Carman. His style is also illustrational and aims at delighting the viewer. However, Wilson's work is more purely cartooning. It seems more preconceived and contained. The creatures he draws are sweeter and sunnier than Carman's. They don't smolder Baroque, they beam Disney.

Using raw masonite as a ground, along with chocolaty browns, precious pinks and bright whites, Wilson achieves the effect of an old hand colored photograph amplified by cartoon newness. Wilson has developed a distinctive style of caricature with an almost reptilian edge. His works are animated and entertaining.

Local neon doctor, Will Kirkman, has also taken up residence in the Basement Gallery's half-gallery, and the dark little nook is suited to his work. Neon sculptures like dark corners. Unlike his comrades, Kirkman's show goes into the world theme-less. He has included some animal forms and what might be called organ forms. My personal favorite, No Blockage, is an unmistakable homage to that section of large intestine extending from the cecum to the rectum, known affectionately as the colon. In Kirkman's piece, however, this undulated piece of twisted and bent human piping has been taken from its dank and cramped quarters, straightened out, and filled with glowing light. Maybe it's the fact that I'm a mere 15 years away from my first colonoscopy--the idea of which I am haunted by on a daily basis--I was filled with hope when I saw that bright and beautiful colon glowing back at me in a more eternal and symbolically perfect form.

The exhibition will be on display through February at Basement Gallery, 928 Main St., 333-0309.

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