It’s a bold move to label one’s art “underground” – as in rebellious, cutting-edge, taboo. Art that seeks to undermine the status quo with in-your-face imagery that challenges and disturbs. Art that makes us look twice, and makes us think. Art that stretches cultural boundaries, takes on political dogma, and shows our secret selves..
Think “underground” and you think graffiti, political posters – and comix. Not comics, those entertaining yet benign superhero stories, but comix, as drawn by counterculture heroes like R. Crumb and Art Spiegelman and Skip Williamson, with twisted characters doing naughty things and spewing strange dialogue.
Christina Gusek’s work comes straight out of that revolutionary tradition. She loves to watch people’s reactions when they’re drawn in by the bright colors and seemingly whimsical images only to find themselves staring at cartoony close-ups of genitalia.
It was meeting Williamson, in fact, that helped to propel her art in that direction. She had moved from western Mass. to Atlanta as a way to further her career, ended up staying for 10 years, and crossed paths with the creator of Snappy Sammy Smoot. Having a show with Williamson, “a grandfather of the underground comix movement,” Gusek says, “was massive.”
Since returning to the area, the Agawam native has been building a body of work that includes drawings, paintings, and photographs. And while some of them might be bright and appealing, none could really be described as “pretty” – rather, they contain an element of the bizarre.
“My life has always been surrounded by chaos,” she says, which she is quick to qualify as not uncontrolled craziness, but random energy generated by chance encounters. “People fascinate me. I could be minding my own business and I attract the kooks,” she says, again quick to explain that she means no judgment. “I learn something from that. People with ‘problems’ aren’t necessarily the people with the problems.”
Behavior more than appearance interests this artist. How people act, not what they look like. How the intricate workings and variations of the human mind manifest in everyday reality. How playing with perspective by turning an image on its side can evoke a whole new story.
Photography is a recent addition to Gusek’s portfolio, and it’s “100 percent my spiritual side,” she says, describing her experience with Buddhism as a way of “letting go of inessential things.” Viewing the world through the lens, “I’ve been obsessed lately with buildings, especially churches, at unusual angles.” Lying down and taking a worm’s-eye view, “I am as low as I can possibly get. I want the viewer to notice how small we are.”
Gusek has shown her work in Atlanta and San Diego, and at the Rant gallery, which she owned for a year in Chicopee, Mass.. A solo show in Amherst is part of her “plan to take the Northeast by storm.” Anyone with a taste for the bizarre might want to take a close look.