A “Homecoming” of sorts, based on a British artist's “lifelong fascination with American culture, stereotypes and landscapes” is on view at City Arts Center. Greeting visitors are real looking — or are they? — portraits of people, dressed as American stereotypical characters, that Boo Ritson paints in thick emulsion paint, then has digitally photographed, still wet.
“The hyper-real, high-key cast of American stereotypes are drawn from imagined narratives,” the London-based artist said of her “very English-centric view of utopia” and American “wide-open spaces.”
“The fictional timeless American landscape is collaged together from elements found closer to home, in Chesham, England, or Cornwall,” she added of some of the about 60 works in the show.
Gazing back at us boldly, for example, are a female “Slot-Player,” wearing pink beads and a jazzy shirt, a “Cop” rendered anonymous by his dark glasses, and a “Cowgirl” with a rope thrown over one shoulder.
Even more confrontational are photos of a “Hooker,” with hands on hips, clad in a black miniskirt and boots, and of a nude “Hitman,” armed with a pistol, eyeing us over his naked girlfriend's shoulder.
Spoofing the “grande horizontale” are photos of a “Sunbather,” posing on an inflated mattress in a two-piece swimsuit, and of a “Hobo” in a blue sleeping bag, with cardboard boxes for his head and feet.
Other American “types” include an “Air Hostess,” a “Starlet,” a “Skier,” a cowboy couple, jazz musicians, a femme fatale named “Elena,” and a sexy “Librarian” holding “The Grapes of Wrath” in front of her.
Three more photos focus not on faces, but hands in laps, holding a sculpturally exaggerated cup of coffee or hot chocolate and a “Donut,” fries and a “Hotdog,” and a giant “Cheeseburger.”
Interacting very well with these painted people are images in which the subjects and their clothes and food are only partly painted in color, with the rest of the image left plaster white, in surreal fashion.
Particularly striking are a trio of hitchhikers “By the Roadside,” an all-white musician with a guitar on his back, an Alabama-bound woman wearing part of a yellow dress, and a smiling, half-white black man.
Taking the satirical commentary one step further are four “body masks” for the heads and torsos of roadside characters, displayed in photos and on the wall, which can be worn for performance art.
Expressing American “wide-open spaces” nicely are two large collagelike photos, pieced together to create composite images of a predatory bird in flight, and of a log fire in front of the “Foothills.”
Delightfully real yet unreal, too, are photos of a painted woman, taking a nocturnal dip in “Bear Creek, AL,” and of a woman surrounded by birds, leaning on a fence in “Prairie View, TX.”
Adding to the surreal aspect of the show are an arrangement of white painted logs and kindling on the floor, plus photographic floor sculptures of a campfire, and a rattlesnake on a rocky “Path.”
Both wildly amusing, and making us think about how someone from the outside sees us, Ritson's “Homecoming” exhibit is highly recommended.
Her show runs through Dec. 21 at City Arts Center, after which it will be on view from Feb. 22 through May 3, 2013, at City Arts' first regional extension gallery, Marfa Contemporary, in Marfa, Texas.
— John Brandenburg