Cannonball Press at the Leviton A+D Gallery
Anchor Graphics curates “Turnin’ the Tip: Simp Heisters, Flukum and the Put’n’Take.”
Cannonball Press evokes the seedy underbelly of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in “Turnin’ the Tip: Simp Heisters, Flukum & the Put’n’Take,” according to this goofy show’s exhibition statement. But the Brooklyn-based print studio’s recent canvas banners, adorned with woodcuts of imaginary sideshow attractions, may remind viewers of the art at Earwax more than the infamous Midway Plaisance.
Curated by Anchor Graphics, “Turnin’ the Tip” demonstrates Cannonball cofounders Mike Houston and Martin Mazorra’s dazzling technical skills in printmaking and illustration. The banners tout their entertainments in an array of inventive fonts: Houston uses lettering that recalls a 19th-century handbill in an ad for Professor Stoomvagen’s steam-powered Modern Musical Mechanism. Mazorra spells out the title of For Real? (2011) in drawings of salvaged boards above a portrait of a girl whose nose, ears and tongue are pierced by nails. The latter work, which could be a Garbage Pail Kid interpreted by Albrecht Dürer, reflects the artists’ delight in the grotesque and their twisted sense of humor.
Except for a sexy sword swallower, the performers and visitors at Cannonball’s fair are an ugly bunch whose grimaces, wrinkles and sweat Houston and Mazorra capture in loving detail. Each woodcut contains a remarkable variety of textures, as the artists represent skin, fabric, wood, reptile scales and the wavy lines denoting hypnotism in black ink alone.
Despite the visual richness of Cannonball’s work, “Turnin’ the Tip” feels a little thin. It’s hard to perceive Houston and Mazorra’s historical inspiration in these prints, which don’t communicate the artists’ supposed critique of capitalism clearly, either. Still, their grim carnival is unlike anything else on view in Chicago.