Art Review: Undercurrent of pop culture exploitation tie together two exhibits

Ian Lemmonds’ “P-47 Thunderbolt” presents a dichotomy of past and present.

Ian Lemmonds’ “P-47 Thunderbolt” presents a dichotomy of past and present.

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Brantley Ellzey, “Pulp Fiction” and Ian Lemmonds, “Bio-illogical”

At L Ross Gallery, 5040 Sanderlin, Suite 104, through March 31. Call 901-767-2200 or visit LRossGallery.com.

Brantley Ellzey’s “Teenage Dream” is constructed from J-14 magazine, Bop magazine, Tiger Beat magazine, Twist magazine, Pop Star! magazine, Word Up! magazine and Teen Dream magazine, summer 2012 editions.

Brantley Ellzey’s “Teenage Dream” is constructed from J-14 magazine, Bop magazine, Tiger Beat magazine, Twist magazine, Pop Star! magazine, Word Up! magazine and Teen Dream magazine, summer 2012 editions.

What links the exhibitions by Brantley Ellzey and Ian Lemmonds, at L Ross Gallery through March 31, is a high state of artificiality, by which I do not intend the word’s connotation of “spurious,” but its original sense: made by human beings and not occurring naturally. Closely related is “artifice,” meaning a clever or cunning device. Other than this dependence on artifice, the groups of works, “Pulp Fiction” by Ellzey and “Bio-illogical” by Lemmonds, share little in common except for their undercurrent of popular culture exploitation.

Each artist is well known locally for his particular form of artifice. Ellzey creates framed three-dimensional works, and getting more purely sculptural, made from thousands of tightly rolled pages from glossy magazines, the nature of the magazine being appropriate to the subject. In this show, for example, “Amazon No. 1 and No. 2” are fashioned from the pages of National Geographic, “The New Black” from the September 2012 issue of Vogue magazine, and “High Rise Nos. 1-3” from Architectural Record.

Lemmonds is a photographer who has long employed found objects in his images, particularly old toys of various sorts and especially human figures, that he poses in provocative, dreamlike and magical scenarios. In the eight-part series “Air Show,” his most important work in “Bio-illogical,” he holds in front of him a colored postcard of a vintage airplane and snaps a picture. The background that serves as prop to the airplane postcard — a cloudy sky, gaunt trees, Midtown bungalows, a parking lot — are as important to the context of the postcard as the airplane itself, setting up a dichotomy of past and present, beautiful engineering and the dream of flight against the mundane quotidian of the cityscape.

In a way, however, the framing device for each of these images is the artist’s arm and hand holding the postcard, a reminder that the hand, as magicians say, is quicker than the eye but also more solid, more real that the subject of the photograph.

The installation of the exhibitions serves the work well; it’s a handsome presentation for both artists, but notably for Ellzey, whose deeply textured work takes well to light. Most impressive is the free-standing and towering “For Sale,” fashioned from who knows how many thousand pages of the “Crye Leike Realtors Homebuyer’s Guide to the Greater Mid-South.” Standing eight-by-four-by-one foot tall, this remarkably intricate piece looks like a monument (or mausoleum) to the real estate industry, but the real question is — as it arises with all on Ellzey’s increasingly complicated pieces — “How the heck did he do that?”

A good deal of wit is deployed in Ellzey’s work, as in “Wintour White,” with its play on the name of Anna Wintour, longtime editor of Vogue, and the elegant chill of her personality, or “Teenage Dream,” a chaos of energy crafted from the pages of seven different teen-throb magazines. Occasionally, though, the artifice and the artist’s amazing technical prowess and efficiency (not to say obsession) overwhelm a piece, turning it into a self-regarding model of cleverness.

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