Mr. Imagination funks up Barbara Archer Gallery
There's something visually anarchic about the artist's self-titled show
If there wasn't classic rock playing in the background at Barbara Archer Gallery you'd swear there was the rhythmic beat of rattles and drums coming off of Mr. Imagination, né Gregory Warmack's work in his self-titled show. There is something kinetic, propulsive and pulsating emanating from the walls. There is a rattle and hum coming off them like heat waves radiating from Georgia asphalt in this celebrated visionary artist's work that has found a home in venues as varied as the Smithsonian Institution and the House of Blues.
Part of that sense of musicality is the artist's busy, frenetic, eclectic material. Mr. Imagination is all about reworking the salvaged refuse of a consumer society to create his shrines, animals, thrones and oddball humanoid figures with paintbrush or snake bodies. When clustered together — hands on hip and all attitude — the works tend to look like a funk band at rest. Among other things, the work is about thrift and economy and making something meaningful and beautiful out of the sacks of crap we haul to the curb every day. Magpie resourceful, Mr. Imagination is drawn to shiny things to feather his artistic nest: CDs, beads, soda pop tabs, plastic wiring, drinking straws, spark plugs, buttons, cowry shells, corks, sewing needles, bits of mirror and the dense plaster that he uses to sculpt his faces all are featured.
Mr. Imagination's show at Barbara Archer Gallery is yet another assertion that when it comes to crazed and magical feats of artistic imagination, even the zaniest conceptual artist with his poop-making machines and nude feats of endurance can't hold a candle to your average outsider artist. Mr. Imagination is a case in point, a man with a lexicon that becomes weirder the longer you ponder it. The central figure of his art is a man resembling the artist with brown skin, a regal bearing, caterpillar black eyebrows, triangular nose, blindingly white corneas and hair — depending upon the artist's whims — composed of metal wire, paint brushes or toilet bowl scrubbers. There is something enormously endearing and visually anarchic about these serious male figures with sinuous snake or paint brush bodies. It's hard not to think of Jim Henson's Muppets. It's their incongruity that makes the pieces appealing: big heads, little bodies, serious faces, and then the slightly humiliating circumstance of having a paintbrush handle where a torso should be.
An important element of this celebrated visionary artist's personal mythology has been a string of hardships, including a devastating fire that destroyed his Pennsylvania home and studio in 2008 and propelled his move to Atlanta two years ago. Not one to let a few charred sculptures hold him back, and true to the resourceful nature of his name, a good portion of the pieces at Barbara Archer have the look of ancient artifacts. The Miller Lite and Michelob bottle cap logos have been charred beyond recognition as have the paintbrushes and glittering beads, leaving behind uniformly singed pieces with the totemic power of ancient African figurines. They seem both tragic and powerful at the same time. Like Mr. Imagination himself, they have, hopefully, weathered the worst of it.