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Strange Tales at the Luggage Store Gallery

A Fresh Look at the Comic Aesthetic

Strange Tales is not the first time artists Nick Ackerman, David Huffman and Chris Oliveria have exhibited together. Lizabeth Oliveria Gallery showed the trio in 2001. Putting them together is a no-brainer. Comics and cartoons are a strong influence, violence a preoccupation and all received MFAs from California College of the Arts.

Chris Oliveria's long-limbed and bug-eyed stick figures resemble early Mickey Mouse cartoons. In a simple, seemingly idealistic wooded land they chase each other with hammers, hiding from each other in hollowed out tree stumps. The three canvases with a lime green background are visually pleasing but Oliveria's characters and landscape look a little generic. The artist's sparse world of identical characters is similar to the work of New York artist Laylah Ali but not nearly as novel.

David Huffman's been able to keep his work fresh by juxtaposing flat, comics-inspired figures with abstract and painterly rendered landscapes. In a large wall painting Huffman has created a floating world of battling robots and black spacemen. "Traumabots", red robots with minstrel-like facial features duke it out with an evil-looking horde of blue robots who may (or may not) represent mean "whities". When they're not feuding, the black spacemen can be found levitating, Buddha-like, above the clouds where they use a system of ropes to get around, occasionally taking a minute or two to jam on the guitar. Are these spacemen Parliament-Funkadelic star children? Psychedelic rock and early 60s Marvel comics are strong influences of Huffman but from the composition of his wall painting Asian landscape painting must also. His muted color palette is lovely. It is hard to pin down the subtle and complex mythology Huffman has created, but it is easy to recognize the artist's serious painting chops.

Only in adolescence can the apocalypse function as an escapist fantasy. Littered with skulls and painted in acid colors Nick Ackerman's canvases look like they were painted by a prog-rock obsessed 16 year-old. Clouds of mysterious gas, broken computer monitors, and moss-covered rocks are sci-fi pictographs that spell out doom for the planet. As a group the paintings resemble half of the frames of an animated film randomly spliced together. The loose, non-linear narrative style enhances the chaos of this existential tale of death and destruction. It's fascinating to stand in front of these paintings and piece a story together. Is Ackerman's accomplishment diminished by the fact that the paintings look more like 70s artifacts than unique artistic output? It's not clear if the artist is being self-aware or needs to update his visual vocabulary.

The grouping highlights each artist's unique style while drawing attention to their collective role in the repurposing of pop culture for aesthetic and critical ends.

Exhibt runs through May 21st