Thursday, January 21, 2016

Powder Monkeys and Plasmagenes

I may not drink beer, but I'm all about the art. Besides, I can always find a beer drinker.

It wasn't just that Isley Brewing Company was hosting an art show, it was that from what I could see of the work online, it was wildly appealing. Literary, even. With my favorite beer drinking illustrator at my side, we braved the frigid and crowded streets of Scott's Addition to see if the real thing lived up to Facebook.

The overpowering aroma of hops greeted us inside where a good-sized crowd was already ogling the art and drinking happily. We joined the line so my friend could score a Plain Jane Belgian Ale from the smiling server before moving on to the main event.

Seth Moreau's "Away with Words: Dictionary Portraiture" featured images of authors, poets, playwrights and musicians done in pen on the dictionary page where their name would fall, meaning poet John Berryman was on the page that began with "Bering" and ended with "Berwick."

I didn't even know Seth and I was already impressed with how clever he was.

We took our time going through the images trying to identify the figures portrayed without resorting to the key, but apparently we're not as savvy as we like to think because we had to look a few up.

Call me an idiot for not immediately recognizing Sylvia Plath (plasmagene - platinum) or JRR Tolkien (together- Tolstoy), but not to have guessed Beatrix Potter (potosi- powder monkey) given the rabbit in the image points to our slipshod sleuthing skills.

Some of Seth's work had clearly been recently inspired - the late greats David Bowie and Lenny Kilmister - but a lot of it was pulled straight from classic literature. The two of us agreed that the appeal of each piece was twofold: the drawing itself but also who the author was.

Handsome Herman Melville (Melbourne- memory trace), with his thick hair and dense beard, looked one step removed from your garden variety Richmond hipster, or even the self-portrait of Seth Moreau (slightly more trimmed beer, a bit of a tighter haircut). But and I'm a little ashamed to admit it, I've never read any Melville.

Centered in the portraits was a standout one of Mark Twain (turtleneck - Twelver), his magnificent shock of thick, white hair completely owning the page. My friend's favorite was the striking one of Poe (pneumatolysis - pogrom) due, no doubt, to her own illustration skills and the piece's lavish use of black in the eyes, mustache and hair.

Honestly, it was hard to choose a favorite and since I knew I shouldn't be buying any art, I didn't have to, but my friend pushed to find out which spoke to me the loudest. Granted, I was completely smitten with the herringbone pattern on the vest and coat of Joseph Conrad (connatural - consequential damages), but, alas, I've not ready any of his work.

But I have read lots of Dorothy Parker (Parima, Serra - parliament), although she was one unhappy soul and I don't know that I'd want to look at her every day. Ditto Hemingway (Hellenist - Hemingway) who was far too much of a chauvinist for my taste.

So I'm inclined to say it was Vonnegut (voltameter - I don't know what because Kurt's hair obliterated the word), not just because of that affable face with its mass of curly hair and big eyes, but because it was the sole piece on which Seth had written words: "So it goes."

It's not often I leave an art show feeling like a dunce. Looking at all those dictionary pages, I was struck by how many words I didn't know. Somebody needs a vocabulary lesson.

My friend, on the other hand, was struck by what a terrific event I'd chosen for our pre-dinner activity. "Look at this place, where everyone knows everybody else, buzzing on a Thursday night before a big snow with beer and art lovers. How cool is this?"

Very cool, although truth be told, I didn't know a soul in the place. But walking out, past the Return of the Mac food truck, we heard a voice call out, "Karen!" and emerge from the truck. Wouldn't you know, turns out I did know somebody, albeit just outside the brewery.

And so it goes.

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