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Michael Thrush at Rx Gallery

American Pop Icons, Demystified

There is something profoundly disturbing about watching Superman punch out Wonderwoman. In Michael Thrush's painting, POW, currently on display as part of his solo show, Love and Other Disasters at Rx Gallery. The two superhero icons appear against a white background, Superman with his bulging right arm outstretched, finishing off a seemingly heroic act for the greater good until we see underneath a classic comic POW bubble, that he's actually walloped Wonderwoman who is flailing backwards in mid air toward us, ready to burst through the canvas onto the floor and land at our feet. Upon further reflection, the animosity between the two isn't surprising, but Thrush takes this tension to its ridiculous end with POW. It is a technically simple but sophisticated image. In fact, all of Thrush's images are iconic bliss taken to an extreme point of no return.

Thrush captures not only the colors and graphic sensibilities of some of pop culture's most beloved characters and advertisements, he also aggressively confronts the latent sexuality, violence and gluttony that infuses these images with their ubiquitous power. In Bambi, Thrush has replaced the classic Thanksgiving turkey being served in Norman Rockwell's classic 1942 painting, Freedom from Want, with the Disney animated version of Bambi's mother. All the while, Bambi is looking on in horror. Thrush's painting is gruesome. He's added just enough greasy light and shadow to the family's faces to show their malicious delight. With this one painting, Michael Thrush has exposed our instantaneous grief for Bambi's mother (a fictional cartoon deer) and our passing sadness for the war dead from which Rockwell's painting was inspired. But Thrush is not condemning us as hapless viewers, instead he's trying to rescue us. It is not that nothing is sacred in Thrush's work, it's that everything is sacred and he wants us to see that underneath his burning imagery.

It is these hollow images of consumerism and escapism, these images that we both cringe in front of and devour with relish that obscure our view of the sacred in our culture -- and this is the crux of Thrush's work, in fact, it is perhaps the crux of all postmodern work today. We cannot stop ourselves from destroying what we hold most dear.

However, it can be almost refreshing, albeit entirely disturbing, to see this paradox of our zeitgeist visually articulated so well. In Milk Thugs a topless Barbie has her awkwardly straight legs spread on the hood of a red convertible as Pooky, the horse companion to Claymation hero, Gumby looks down at her with glee. In the background, the Power Puff Girls are gritting their teeth as they battle plastic green army toys, tanks and a mushroom cloud. All the while, Barbie's Ken is underneath the wheel of her car, his decapitated head vapidly smiling in the painting's foreground. Ironically, toilet paper and candy advertisements present in the background offer a strange sort of solace in this crazed scene.

Michael Thrush's work is visually balanced in both color and form. Simply put, Thrush's work is terribly attractive. Judging from his burgeoning success, it seems Michael Thrush has found a comfortable seat inside the whirling catastrophe of daily life in American pop culture.

Love and other Natural Disasters: Recent Paintings by Michael Thrush
at Rx Gallery, through 1/21