Obssvv Compulsuv Awesum

Obsessive Compulsive Awesome at ArtStorm is a mixture of counterculture cheek and adolescent bathos by two artists whose work is hard to sort out until you get the knack: Arthur Bates’ pieces are the more polished but more expectable ones and Chris Cascio’s the less consistent, but dirtier and more tormented. These playful dogs painted permanently on the outside of the garage-apartment-cum-gallery in Brookesmith are a collaboration.

Rather than make blanket statements about this uneven show, I’m going to criticize my favorite Chris Cascio drawing at length. It has the beginnings of guts (guts are good), and deserves to be picked apart.

Apparently it’s Cascio’s earlier work; I saw it at ArtStorm’s grand opening six months ago. Beginning with the phrase “word-game” in the upper left, sloppy columns of unsteady handwriting slip diagonally towards the edges of the sketchbook-sized page. Each column begins with a self-consciously provocative word or phrase that degenerates through several free-association iterations into nonsense. “Columbine guns + ammo” becomes “combine columbo gummo” then “comb pattern gumbo.” What’s good about the piece isn’t it’s adolescent bad-assery. Anyone can write “fuckshop” or “heroin sheik” and even mean it. It’s not that the piece has particularly idiosyncratic or evocative free-association paths; Cascio dumps his mind onto the paper like a load of damp laundry and it’s mostly tube socks:

dream machine
tangerine peen
ball peen dream
ice creamed jeans
billie jean
steam clean

Granted, with this type of automatic writing (and it seems authentic) you can’t expect anything but statistical success, but the more you do it, the better you get at it, and Cascio’s a tyro. Near the end of the paper, there’s a smudged word, followed by a stream of self-flagellation, in which Cascio calls himself a loser and says he’s going to hell, if there is one.

What I like about the piece is it’s disturbing directness as a psychological portrait. Try it. Sit down with a piece of typing paper and write something. Let it show you coughing up all your stupid associations and pretensions, hoping something will morph into transcendence in spite of yourself. Watch it not work. Then frame it anyway, and hang it in your show.

also by Bill Davenport

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