What’s more American than hot dogs, beer and apple pie? “Phobias,” says Lincoln artist Craig Roper. At least that’s what his latest minimalist art project texts in patriotic red, white and blue opening in Omaha’s Project Project gallery on Vinton Street, May 13 from 6-9 p.m.
Titled “Fear of all of the Above and Then Some,” the exhibit features 30-some paintings, each featuring a common, or not, phobia pasted on a white background framed in red or blue. For emphasis, Roper adds a heavy stamp of red or blue in the center, opposite the frame’s color. The simple design of each belies the fear itself, some real, some satiric as in “Fear of Losing It,” Fear of Fucking Up” or Roper’s favorite, “Fear of Teenagers.” Who can argue with any of these?
Of course, Roper is having some fun here as virtually all of his work has benefited by his tongue-in-cheek POV over a long career. Which is not to say that he doesn’t take his work seriously. He does. But he’s not going to rub one’s face in his issues with human nature or turn his art into a science project or power point.
Roper belongs to that school of artists who when quizzed on their work blithely respond with something exactly like “Gawd I hate academic art statements. Plus, they usually have nothing to do with the actual work. WTF? Art isn’t that big a deal. It certainly ain’t rocket science.
“I don’t do artist talks or statements anymore,” Roper added. “If the work speaks loud and clear, then I’ve done my job sufficiently. Once it’s up in the gallery it becomes a conversation between the viewer and the work. By then it has nothing to do with me.”
Yet, it does have to do with something, and like most really interesting art, it will speak to a viewer paying attention to the clues and keys between the lines and within the imagery. Roper’s work astutely avoids the cop-out of some artists who are fond of saying, “It can mean whatever you want it to mean,” when it often doesn’t mean much of anything at all.
Of course, one could point out that the text/titles of these works may leave little to the imagination and are about as subtle as a poke in the eye. What don’t we get about “Fear of Short-barreled Guns” or “Fear of Crapping Out” or even “Fear of Bad Art.” But if this exhibit was really only that obvious than it too would be guilty of the latter. There is “Fear of all of the Above” as the title implies, but the “Then Some” suggests that this exhibit is greater than the sum of its parts.
The “Then Some” may reference the past two years of living with COVID-19, isolated and threatened by fears real and imagined…or in the case of phobias, irrational. Perhaps Roper here is commenting on what it’s like to live under the umbrella of a pandemic, social injustice, political conspiracies and now inflation and the threat of WIII. That’s a lot to process.
It’s no wonder then, we are often insecure, afraid of even the slightest things when confronted and unable to deal with bigger issues, which we feel are beyond our control. This makes us vulnerable to the irrational, and the irrational makes us unable to cope with what really matters. This might explain such works as “Fear of Impending Doom” and the “Fear of Losing it All.” Frozen in one’s tracks.
In other paintings, such as “Fear of Algebra” and “Fear of Gravity,” Roper lightens up, but overall, his one-man show admits to another fear, or at least a real concern about the future of art.
“I am putting a $100 price on each (work). Half to Project Project, half to me,” Roper said. “They usually take 20%, but hopefully this way they get more money to support their cause, and I get enough to break even, and art appreciators can snatch up something even if they don’t have a lot of spare money. “
All of which comes at a good time for the enterprising Project Project whose co-owner Josh Powell said that, while Roper’s show is not replacing the annual, popular $100 Art Sale, “this year and in the future, we have decided to step away from doing the $100 Art Sale fundraiser.“
While Roper’s solo effort by itself won’t solve macro issues beyond our immediate control or cure irrational fear and behavior, maybe it’s his way of lighting a candle rather than cursing the dark he alludes to in the work, “Fear of Doing Nothing.” His art is his response to apathy. It’s his coping mechanism. It’s his voice. The message is simple, sustainability: “Be vocal, buy local.”
“Fear of all of the Above and Then Some,” opens Friday, May 13, from 6-9 p.m. at Project Project, 1818 Vinton St. and closes through June 4. For more information and gallery hours, go to https://www.instagram.com/weareprojectproject/?hl=en.