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Artist Biscuit Street Preacher and the raucuos energy of his paintings

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Biscuit Street Preacher at Amanda Harris Gallery
Dawn-Michelle Baude

Threeand a half stars

Scratch & Dent, through November 1, Thursday and Friday, 5-8 p.m. Amanda Harris Gallery, 900 S. Las Vegas Blvd. #150, 769-6036.

Renewed interest in Neo-Expressionist painting bodes well for Biscuit Street Preacher, whose Scratch & Dent show at Amanda Harris Gallery of Contemporary Art is full of painterly brio. Playfulness and even—gasp!—cheerfulness discharge from the brightly painted canvases. There’s urgency here, and raucous energy, and a refreshing who-cares-what-you-think attitude. At a time when many artists are desperate to make a statement, to the point that self-consciousness overwhelms their practice, BSP seems intent on blithely carrying on, come what may.

Biscuit Street Preacher at Amanda Harris Gallery.

But BSP has crosses to bear—the association of his work with the radiant child, Jean-Michel Basquiat, is chief among his burdens. Even 25 years after his death, Basquiat’s afterglow casts a shadow on BSP’s work. The list of stylistic overlaps between the artists seems long: nervy scribbles, erasure, reworking, naive drawing, superimposition and so on.

Perhaps the derivative alarm sounds a little too quickly, though, at least in terms of BSP’s recent work. Basquiat’s content centered on race and class, while BSP focuses on the human vs. technology divide. Basquiat was all about spontaneity and inspiration, but BSP obsessively plans and executes his compositions. (BSP “paints” his drips with a turkey baster.) In fact, some of BSP’s recent works might have as much in common with the Euro-Pop canvases of Sigmar Polke as with Basquiat.

The small format “He Knows Who Has Been Sleeping,” for example, seems fresh. In a “Big Brother is watching” update, a disembodied Santa Claus chats on the telephone, his cherubic form competing with a radio tower for the base of an abstract evergreen tree. Underpainting and overpainting add pictorial depth, so that the images feel emergent, on the verge of differentiating from the dense, superimposed composition. Trapped by concentric radio waves, Santa happily makes his Robocalls in an allegoric short hand for the thrills and cruelties of consumer society.

“Making Beach Balls”—another standout piece in the show—depicts a factory that is itself manufactured out of tape, paint and collaged materials. Densely worked and reworked, the building is a wealth of partial graphic detail, both superimposed and in jokey contour, sometimes magnified, sometimes miniaturized. By divvying the composition into quadrants, BSP tames the movement of the hyperactive picture plane. Vibrant, retro and comic, the work feels in some ways like a hand-drawn animated film.

While “Welcome to Nevada” perhaps seems unresolved and the multimedia installation is less convincing, Scratch & Dent is an interesting show by an artist gaining momentum.

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