Las Vegas artist Biscuit Street Preacher’s new show at Trifecta Gallery is titled From Zenith to Nadir. But there’s not a lot on these involved canvases that leaves you thinking about high points. It’s the latter sense that predominates. The show—his third at Trifecta—plays like a fugue of American meltdown.
Through his multilayered Basquiat-like collage style, Biscuit (née Robby Martin) presents a vision of society run amok, of faceless people seemingly zapped of identity, facing a chaotic world. Bits of technology float all throughout the works: electric sockets, light switches, pipes and gauges. Perhaps these are symbols of our technological prowess, or perhaps instead a pathetic reminder that technology is incapable of saving us from ourselves.
Among the most arresting pieces is “Zeus Meets His New Neighbors,” which features a series of orange horses outlined in neon green, with “B” brands—like they’re moving cuts of meat—in front of a Greek temple that seems not to evoke Zeus so much as the façade of a bank on Wall Street. Hovering to the side are ghoulish pink masks that resemble a mash-up of the ghosts in Pac Man and distended KKK hoods—while a forlorn Zeus looks on from above.
Large wooden slats cover part of the canvas called “Thinking About Them,” but then they open up, revealing an image of a ’60s style, NASA-like control bank and a lonely man sitting on a mattress. The amorphously rendered humans in these paintings are more ideas of people than the real thing. The idea here is that we’re watching the scene from above rather than straight on, peeking in above the room’s drop-ceiling and fluorescent lights, and we can see all the way down to the drain.
Pieces of wood jut and dangle from many of these canvases. For example, “Population LA” contrasts an empty room full of green power generators with an empty locker room (there are two Chinese food containers but no workers around)—the “appendages” make the art seem like a found object, like it was ripped off of some billboard, pulled out of another context altogether. But these extra pieces also help destabilize the frame—as if the frame were buckling and bending and twisting to contain the myriad ideas and imagery smashed together inside.
The piece that resonates most hopefully—and at that just barely—is his “The Next 100 Years,” which features a gallery of onlookers looking out from the top of a heavily stylized Hoover Dam (so stylized that one portion of the dam actually resembles the under-construction Freedom Tower at Ground Zero in New York). The more regular, controlled geometries of this painting seem to offer a measure of stability, of order—maybe of hope—but it’s hard to see which way we’re headed—up toward the heights of our achievements, or down to the bottom of the canvas, where a McDonald’s drink cup and a fishbone nestle at the edge of another drain.
The show’s title piece, “From Zenith to Nadir,” features a group of robot-looking people standing in front of an enlarged slide wheel of an old View-Master. According to a sheet of notes about the show, the painting is about people “trying to get their lives together but the View-Master reel shows them repeating history, never getting anywhere doing the same thing over and over.”
The words seem a little hollow in the face of such a stark painting, which seems to depict the entire world undergoing a lobotomy.
In both this painting and the others, the Biscuit Street Preacher reveals a grimly poignant world where our gauges, dials and generators may hum on reliably, but we seem to have lost our way. It’s well worth checking these bracing works for yourself.