Any metropolitan arts community loves a good outsider artist. With their outré viewpoints and influences, they entrance us with fresh ideas born in a seemingly mystical, distant land located about 43 miles outside the city limits. It comes out of the blue like a twenty in a Wal-Mart parking lot.
Now, what do you do with an outsider artist from, gasp, Papillion? Whitebread, cul-de-sac, suburban nightmare Papillion. Mall bangs are still an accepted and un-ironic fashion trend there. But deep in a basement of a taupe vinyl-sided house in a development lays the makeshift studio of Mike Bauer. His first solo show, Welcome to Your Doom is currently up at Benson's mothership, Sweatshop Gallery and it is not one to miss.
Bauer's outsider-ness doesn't come from a geographical disability or an introverted personality, it's Omaha's fault; this kid just doesn't belong here. This community is not ready to whole-heartedly support work like his. Bauer is the product of a pop-cultural mashup caused when young Nickelodeon, slime-guzzling artists discover skateboards, horror movies and Zap Comix.
It's the perfect storm. Within minutes during a visit to the gallery, it becomes quite easy to picture the artist at nine years old drawing the devil over and over again while his classmates finish another drawing of mom, dad and baby brother.
His style is obviously inspired by artists like Pusshead and Neckface and if those names give you no mental picture of what is in store at the show, Google them, but not in front of Grandma. Art like this lacks the weirdo critical mass in Omaha that it needs to flourish.
He has made countless works in this vein for nearly a decade, he has produced multiple refined zines featuring his and other's work, and he has been a part of multiple group shows in the area and has been in every major fundraiser in the area for years. Solo shows are thrown around in Omaha to any artist willing to hustle like Busch Lights at a small town bro-party, so why did it take so long for this talent to be recognized?
Bauer's paintings seem to have few but strict guidelines: the subject is either bleeding, sweating, in duress or vomiting, all warts and fat rolls/muscles must be wildly exaggerated and every single piece should tickle some dark funny bone in the viewer.
Painter and famed underground comic artist Robert Williams once stated that a woman's beauty stands over the "mighty mountains and the great grandeurs of the world", yet Bauer can't seem to draw them without including mercilessly hairy arms and bloody stumps.
His style is rushed yet thoughtfully produced and his message is all but "here's something nice to look at," because his work isn't nice in any way. It's ugly, abrasive and most people would never treat it as decoration for their home no matter how much they enjoy it. He makes work because this is what he wants to see, not because it will sell, not because it will gain him some sort of standing in the community.
This makes it very easy to say that not many artists in the Metro are doing what Mike Bauer is doing. On top of that, most Omaha galleries are not showing work with this type of imagery. If that weren’t enough, Bauer’s choice of materials and tools adds another row of teeth: nearly all of his paintings, including all of the work in Welcome to Your Doom, are created in the same format: marker and cheap paint on cardboard. Instead of using a sheet of cardboard as a canvas, he creates his image on it and then cuts it out so when placed in a gallery the space appears to be filled with oversized die-cut stickers.
This has a particularly interesting effect at the current Sweatshop show where the artist has created a gallery-spanning floor to ceiling installation of his work. During the exhibition’s soft opening in July, Bauer had every individual piece installed but expressed that changes were coming.
The artist chose to fill every gap between separate works by continuing his work directly on the gallery walls linking every work together an, in effect, creating a new, singular piece that is almost too much to take in in one visit. In short, this outsider, gonzo, comic illustrator is an installation artist as well.
Most reviews allow the reader to experience the exhibition without ever going. That is definitely not happening here, what has been said should be enough to get you out the door. Go see something new, go see a very fresh show by an artist who’s been making work in this community for years right under your nose.
Welcome to Your Doom continues through August at Sweatshop Gallery in Benson, 2727 N. 62 St. For details, go to sweatshopgallery.com.