Plugged In 

From the war in Iraq to the Old South — two Power House exhibitions run the gamut.

For Tom Lee's exhibition "Into the Fire," there is a perfect pairing of art and venue. Inside Power House's small, sooty gallery, the Fuel Room, Lee has drawn, whittled, and painted a savagely wry 21st-century version of Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam. Instead of surrounding God with cherubim, Lee depicts the Almighty flanked by a circular saw with an image of George W. Bush imprinted on each tooth of the blade.

In Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel masterwork, God reaches out, almost touching Adam. The Fuel Room Jehovah points to a replica of Elmer Fudd's shotgun (circa 1950s), which sprays pellets into a tiny Bugs Bunny hanging from the wall. To God's right, a body as beautiful as Adam's lies in a casket, naked except for the footgear and helmet of a soldier.

Lee fills the world, post-Eden, with barbed wire, shotgun blasts, carvings of human skulls on wooden stakes, and Katrina floodwaters painted on the wall. A huge white bunny, face half-blown off by Fudd's shotgun blast, floats in the middle of the deluge and is still nibbling on a carrot. Lee's work suggests that maybe instead of eating more of the carrots dangled in front of our weary wounded faces, we should rethink some of the Looney Tunes political logic and the convenient lies told in the name of God and country.

Born and raised in Memphis, Grier Edmundson now lives in Scotland. This May, Edmundson is scheduled to paint a mural on the side of a building in Iceland. The piece will be titled "Was the World Made for Men?" — a question posed in the 19th century by another wry explorer of the human heart: Mark Twain.

In his retrospective "North/South" at Power House, Edmundson explores gender, race, modern technology, and the will-to-power with paintings as varied as Nathan Bedford Forrest on horseback, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, three white crosses alongside Interstate 40, and a young girl learning to use a calculator.

click to enlarge View of Tom Lee's "Into the Fire"
  • View of Tom Lee's "Into the Fire"

Edmundson's impastoed and energetic brushwork transforms photographs into paintings often explosively different from the original images. In his 2006 portrait of Robert Oppenheimer, beige-pink paint explodes from the top of the physicist's head like a mushroom cloud.

There's more spewing in the 2004 work Thoughts on the Definition of Culture Part I, in which hunters dressed in camouflage sit on a front porch sharing adventures, off-color jokes, and small-town vitriol. One of the hunters throws back his head, laughs, and emits a splash of beige-pink impasto the viscosity and color of vomit.

In another work, a Civil War patriot waves his right arm in front of the Confederate flag. His face has been wiped out — white-washed, perhaps, by political rhetoric, blinded by ideology, obscured by cannon smoke, and obliterated on a battlefield.

While his earlier artwork explores some of the South's disconcertingly mixed messages regarding chivalry, religion, race, and gender, nothing is obscured in Edmundson's untitled 2007 black-and-white painting in which a hare darts across a field of snow. In the corner of the work are a few lines of poetry about forest animals and the course of nature. Those lines, this painting remind us that power struggles have existed since the dawn of time.

"Into the Fire" and "North/South" at Power House through March 9th

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