The Dark and Funny Paintings of a Skeleton-Clown

Scooter LaForge, "Past, Present and Future"
Scooter LaForge, “Past, Present and Future” (2012), oil and mixed media on canvas (all images courtesy the Munch Gallery)

This weekend is your last chance to take in the colorful and wry paintings of Scooter LaForge, in his exhibition Super Powers and Special Abilities at Munch Gallery. A New Yorker to the core, LaForge makes works that are brash and whimsical, tough and sweet, and infused with a humor that’s both dark and lighthearted.

In 2012, it’s hard to find a painting style that doesn’t look like it’s already been done. LaForge paints raw, thick, bright color, but without looking like a Basquiat knockoff. He occasionally incorporates collage and found objects without falling into the Rauschenberg-wannabe trap. His work warps perspective but doesn’t look like a rehash of cubism.

What’s different is LaForge’s wry storytelling. Like a joke that makes you laugh hard and pout awww at the end of the wisecrack, there is twisted humor in these paintings. It’s a comedy as jagged as the perspective, as messy as the brushstrokes, and as unexpected as the found objects and collage elements that become integrated into the compositions.

Scooter La Forge, "Dowsing a Campfire"
Scooter La Forge, “Douching a Campfire” (2012), oil on canvas

One of the funniest works in the show, “Douching a Campfire” (2012) features a bear and two boys around a campfire. The bear is “relieving himself” in a futile effort to extinguish the fire. But wait … the beast’s endowment looks suspiciously human. The skin on the exposed thigh confirms that it’s actually a man in a bear costume.

The next twist is the boy across the fire, who looks delightfully intrigued by the water sports. His pursed lips, intense gaze, and forward lean all betray a fascination and — dare I say? — longing. Is the other boy dashing out to give them some alone time? It’s rare to see a narrative painting unleash such a string of veiled, off-kilter jokes.

Scooter LaForge, "In Trouble for Watching a Rated R Movie"
Scooter LaForge, “In Trouble for Watching a Rated R Movie” (2012), oil on canvas

“In Trouble for Watching a Rated R Movie” (2012) depicts a cat spanking a kitten. The cat raises its arm authoritatively but also frowns and tilts its head with disappointment. Is that a painterly flourish or a mohawk on the cat’s head? And if that’s the R-rated movie still playing the background, what did Mickey Mouse do to earn the R rating? The ambiguity gives viewers a chance to draw their own conclusions from the absurdity. The artist’s point of departure for the painting was getting caught watching The Exorcist by his mom, but that memory sure has been surrealized. But this is the fun in LaForge’s work: he throws curveballs and lets you decide how to catch them.

Other pieces in the show satirically mix the motifs of the skeleton and the clown, sometimes even in the same figure. LaForge has a knack for blending grimness with folly.

Scooter LaForge, “Skeleton Autopsy” (2012), oil on canvas

In “Skeleton Autopsy” (2012), a skeleton with a suggestive, harlequin-like white face and red lips lays before famous artists like Magritte, Van Gogh, and Picasso. A clown gazes on from the background amid wallpaper that’s been collaged in. Rembrandt’s famous “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp” (1632) has been stretched.

In “Past, Present and Future” (2012), these three different times are allegorized as composites figures of skeletal, ghoulish, and clownish parts. Won’t the future be just as trippy as yesterday, but in a different way?

Scooter Laforge’s work shares many affinities with the aesthetic of the Mexican Day of the Dead. In both, skeletons are surrounded by bright colors, darkness is mixed with pizzaz, and black humor is something to revel in. Honing this dualistic sensibility, which is all too rare in America, makes Scooter LaForge stand out like a skeleton-clown.

Scooter LaForge: Super Powers and Special Abilities will be on view at the Munch Gallery (245 Broome Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through Sunday, December 2.

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