Prolific art misfits Jimbo Easter and Thelonius Bone are melding their demented visions in a show titled Have You Seen Me? at Popps Packing arts venue in Hamtramck. The flyer for their show is a painted recreation of a milk carton's missing persons panel with their photos and helpful descriptors such as "responds to shiny objects" and "last seen at an A&P parking lot." The opening is on Saturday, June 10 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. (Disclaimer, the author is a friend of the artists and will be spinning some tunes at the opening.)
The show will include a proliferation of new paintings, drawings, sculptures and collaborative work, none that have been shown before. There are also rumors of an impromptu performance from the duo. Easter is known for outlandish and bizarre performances with costumes, the ingestion of moldy foods and vegetables, and theatrically confrontational moments. Bone said that he probably wouldn't know what Easter had planned for the performance piece until the day of the show.
Easter was awarded a 2016 Kresge Live Arts Fellowship, but continues to defy notions of artistic respectability. Both artists share a healthy disdain for taking oneself too seriously. In fact, humor may be the strongest connecting aspect between them.
"When we first met we were timid tigers chasing each other around, sniffing our dung. I had wondered who this mythic character T-Bone was," says Easter. They've been posting hilarious short videos on Instagram promoting the show. A shirtless Bone wearing a cape and captain's hat announces in his best WWF voice: "Captain Cataracts here, and I got some stuff to say about Jamie Easter, that son-of-a-bitch is going down."
Stylistically, their work is quite different. Easter says that comics have always influenced his work, and that this show has him going back to a primordial level that touches on the cave drawings of ancient peoples. "I've been working in a kind of dream state, I let them paint themselves and I'll wake up and see what happened," he says. "But cartoons are the backbone of my work."
Looking at one silk-screened drawing, you can see the filtered effect of comic books on Easter's work. A mangled Mickey Mouse-looking creature towers over cacti, gnomes, rats, and a naked and primitive creature wandering a desert landscape. "I started drawing these when I went to Disney World, it's so psychedelic there, this is like Walt Disney drizzling down a sewer," he says. "This is my comic, it's as linear as I get. "
Gnomes also have a large place in Easter's work. He mentioned being scared by the many gnome busts that hung from his parent's basement walls as a child and he showed me a wizardly example, a gnome-faced classic piece of American kitsch, followed by his own creations: A myriad collection of sculptural busts that hang flat on the wall, big-eyed goblins and monsters, just faces and hair, his own world of gnomes and wizards.
"My wall busts have started looking really Southern lately. Like this guy owns a junkyard," he says. "They (the sculptures) start laughing when people look at them for the first time. Someone will ask me what I did last night and I'll tell them I listened to Bo Hansson and made 25 clay noses."
Thelonius Bone paints visual punchlines of the joke that is America's surreal underbelly. His paintings look like skewed representations of ads found in '70s Playboy magazines; mustached musclemen with distended arms, saxophone players wearing bondage masks, a man resembling Michigan's most beloved litigator with a giant bottle of tequila stating 1800 CALL SAM. "It's definitely about the humor for me, but a lot of times it's an inside joke that becomes the piece," says Bone. "The environment will be a strange mood."
His paintings are visually arresting and all employ a style that is immediately recognizable. Pop culture references abound, but not in a way that worships contemporary celebrity. His paintings reference punk rock, drinking, masculinity obsessions, and old television. A wicked and biting humor invades most pieces, and often a short phrase or bit of dialogue written on the painting works as a narration. Some paintings require no words: A shimmering disco ball hangs over a peeled pink banana that greatly resembles the one created by Andy Warhol for the iconic cover of the Velvet Underground's first album. The banana lies like a forgotten starlet on the ground, passed out from Quaaludes and too much disco.
It's rare to see an art show created by two talented friends, particularly a show featuring both visual collaborative work and a collaborative performance. For a hint of their art work or to see what a performance may entail, you can take a look at Easter and Bone's promotional videos for the art show on Instagram (@thelonius_bone or @jimbo_easter). It's also nice to know that Easter and Bone both price their work very affordably, creating work for people to purchase.
"Every time we get together we'll film a handful of promo videos for the show that we post. We were listening to Rappin' Rodney (Dangerfield) slowed down on a record," says Bone. Any performance at the show is sure to be as absurd.
Have You Seen Me? runs through July 8 at Popps Packing, 12138 St. Aubin St., Hamtramck. The opening is from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. on June 10.