The other bright spot of my Saturday afternoon was Michael Bise at Moody Gallery. The big question after his 2005 Widow show (also at Moody) was, "This is great, but what's next? How far can he go with this whole 'dead dad' thing?"
We have yet to find out, since Bise's Birthday show succeeds magnificently, and again uses his father's death as his central subject, this time with a dash of morbid irony: Bise slips in Halloween imagery like the gnarly trees outside his dorm room window as he hears the sad news, a little jack-o-lantern next to his father's headstone on the invitation drawing, and bat-wing drawer pulls in his boyhood bedroom.
The drawings are bigger and even better than last time. Bise has toned down the pathos and substituted a creeping surreal symbolism into the wealth of descriptive details that surround the characters in each piece. They're also visually more restrained; Bise's lavishly pencilled textures are held more strictly at the service of his allegorical intent.
Throughout the show, believable reportage is made to serve symbolic ends with almost medieval directness. In Fall, the dead man sprawls next to a glass patio table. His T-shirt has an electric company logo, a crack in the concrete repeats its lightning-bolt motif. The round table, seen from above, becomes a target. Fallen leaves sift around the body. Described, it sounds heavy-handed, but Bise's cartoon-style drawing makes such obvious contrivances palatable. They're just part of the convention of comics, like the way everyone has squinty lower eyelids.
The death of Bise's father coincides with his coming of age, with all the contradictions of overlapping roles as child and man, leading to bizarre, but completely true-to life scenes like this:
The cute plush mogwai (not a gremlin, as I first mis-labeled it) is pushed aside for the teenage lovers' anguished embrace; the Millennium Falcon and Castle Greyskull lie tumbled behind the bed. I'm including this photo not only because it has nudity, but also because only ultra close-ups of these works (which is here reproduced at about actual size) show any of the fine-grained textures.
Several drawings deal with the superimposition of his dad's death with his break with his family. In Vanishing Point, the family stand around a hospital gurney in a vast, cubist space of receding planes. The artist, in his signature Superman T-shirt stands on one side, mom and sisters on the other. In Exit, Bise makes the gulf between his "before" and "after" lives into a spatial divide. It's a funeral; on one side of the casket the pews are filled with friends and family, on the other, with new artworld acquaintances.
Bise draws his personal experiences to illustrate a universal truth: life-changing events, like an unexpected death, rupture reality. Everyday life goes on, but seems somehow unreal, every detail takes on weird significance. But how far can he go with this whole "dead dad" thing?