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Highway to Hell 

Apocalypse, politics, drugs, censorship and revolution - the latest at the Kolva-Sullivan Gallery.

click to enlarge Jay Schmidt's 'FREEDUMB'
  • Jay Schmidt's 'FREEDUMB'

Kathryn and Jay Schmidt share a last name, a 20-by-40 studio space, and a deep concern that the world is going to hell.

“In recent years,” says Kathryn, via email, from their Bozeman, Mont., home, “as both Jay’s and my work has darkened and been more specific, some people have questioned the apocalyptic nature of our views.”

In “An Unquiet Mind,” the couple’s current show at Spokane’s Kolva-Sullivan Gallery, the artworks provide political and social commentary on a growing list of issues. The environment, the economy…

And then there’s politics.

“Our Iraq War (And He in the Depthless Self- Satisfaction)” is a powerful triptych of 5-foot-tall panels. Former President George W. Bush, dapper in white shirt, blue suit and matching tie, treads a red carpet smoothed over a smoldering landscape. He’s painted flatly, a deliberate caricature. To the left, a nude, hooded figure stands, feet bound, in the shadows of an innocuous green lawn. The figure’s genitals are blurred pixels, as if he’s on television, making the viewer complicit in the shame. The far right panel features a standing skeleton, barely visible in the polluted murk. An oil drill silhouetted against the sky completes the contemporary reference.

“I am most interested in sharing my view of the world,” writes Jay, “a world I see as facing insurmountable problems while at the same time being placated with large doses of mindless diversion.” His “FreeDumb” is both an indictment and a challenge in the shape of a bomb (also resembling a pill capsule) dropped from a bird’s-eye view.

“Oops” has a vintage Mad magazine effect: saturated colors, frenetic mark-making, jumbled space teeming with images. “Resist,” “Revolt,” and “Free Art School” adorn the skull-and-crossbones flag held by an aquamarine-colored snowman-robot. His significantly sized genitalia are outlined in white, screaming at you above a din of white noise.

“He can tolerate way more chaos on a daily basis,” says Kathryn of her husband.

“I have a persistent love for iconic images, humor, chaos and motion that might render the viewer mildly agitated,” Jay writes. He is collaborating with several other artists “who make work that is intentionally confrontational and impulsive.”

Kathryn’s work tends towards introspection, personal narrative, and a classic use of the picture plane. It’s also glimmering with hope. “Familiar Things So Utterly Shifted” (a working title) shows a kneeling woman scooping earth to form a deer. For the most part, the color palette is warm and muted, except for her skin, a puddle, and splotches of pigment and the sky. Around her are other deer and a nearby male figure — not fully formed and only partially painted in the same flesh color as her. She is rebuilding there, too.

In the show’s title-card image, “Areas of Sunlight and Dark,” a figure balances on tall, tapered legs of reinforced glass. But is that glass half-full or half-empty? This exhibit invites you to stop and think about that.

Kathryn and Jay Schmidt, “An Unquiet Mind” • Sep 2-23 • Kolva-Sullivan Gallery • 115 S. Adams • 509.458.5517.

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