“Into a Birdless Sky” at Circuitous Succession Gallery 

West Tennessee artist Jason Stout wanted to say some hard-to-express things about things that are hard to express. The associate professor at UT Martin felt compelled to respond to America's evermore volatile political circumstance, but he also felt like news cycles turned too fast for making political cartoons with any kind of shelf life. Heck, they turned so fast, dropping information so furiously, it was impossible for even the most media-literate consumers to ever really get anything but a feel for bigger pictures. That's when the idea came to him: fight cloud.

Everybody's familiar with the ubiquitous, violence-obscuring comic strip convention Stout calls the "fight cloud." It's a literal "dust up," where comic strip combatants kick up so much particulate debris all you can see is the odd fist, flying foot, or escaped hairpin. These kinds of detail-obscuring clouds are the inspiration for Stout's "Into a Birdless Sky," an explosive exhibition opening at Circuitous Succession Gallery this week.

A “dust up”
  • A “dust up”

Stout says his fight clouds were inspired by the long-running Beetle Bailey newspaper strip, but the shotgun shells and other loaded imagery poking out at odd angles from the luminous fogs of info-war have a distinctly alt-comics vibe.

"It's all partially indebted to abstraction," Stout says, thinking about how his recent work relates to a variety of traditions. "But you can still make out figures, and it's kind of poppy with high color saturation and they're kind of cartoonish. It's still kind of a traditional way in which you look at a picture.

"It's all kind of political, and rural, and country in their slant," Stout says. "I'm trying to find a point of view that's kind of smack in the middle, that's about the ambiguity."

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