This past Friday, Tomato House, the gallery run by artists Rebecca Bird and Matthew Thurber in Ocean Hill, Brooklyn, felt more akin to a DIY music venue than any kind of gallery in Chelsea. A tight-knit crowd packed in for a night of experimental animation called “The Magic Floot,” part of an ongoing screening series dubbed “Thurb’s Grand Guignol,” after the 1900s Parisian theater that specialized in productions full of questionable taste and high entertainment value, all videos projected from Thurber’s laptop to a gallery wall.
Handcrafted animation ruled the night, with many artists in the show coming to video sideways through other disciplines. Melissa Brown’s background is rooted in painting and printmaking, but on Friday she showcased a hypnotic stop-motion video called Shell Game, which featured a dazzling soundtrack, some of it sourced from field recordings Brown made of casinos in Atlantic City.
Billy Grant, a founding member of the legendary psychedelic art collective Dearraindrop, premiered Untitled Car Ride Movie, a study in familial road trip dynamics using loosely animated sketches and deranged sound design. While the work lacked Dearraindrop’s signature hyper-color insanity, it retained a bit of the collective’s sensibility through sharply twisted dialogue that wouldn’t feel out of place on a more outré Adult Swim program.
Erin Dunn, who currently has a show of figurative watercolor paintings hanging at Tomato House, offered up two pieces of stop-motion animation, the second of which (titled Frog) featured a series of short vignettes centered around a curious handcrafted monster-like figure, all bedazzled, puffy painted, and full of fur. During the loose and lively Q and A, Dunn explained that the monster was inspired by her grandmother, with whom she lived in her mid-20s. “She lost her teeth and had this very expressive character,” explained Dunn, who went on to praise her for the inspiration over the years.
Dash Shaw’s Wheel Of Fortune — a humorous recreation of a New Years Day episode of the titular television program using marker on paper—was one particular highlight of the night. Wheel Of Fortune used not animation but a quick succession of stills to storyboard the episode, the images ranging from abstract to figurative. “I wanted the beginning of 2008 episode but it wasn’t any good,” said Shaw, commenting on the quality of that particular installment of “Wheel Of Fortune.” He instead used an episode from New Year’s Day 2009 that he deemed better, “but changed the audio so it said 2008,” he said during the Q and A, deadpan.
In contrast to most of the program, James Mercer’s Landfill was over 10 minutes long and created through digital means. Far from slick, however, Landfill owed more aesthetically to an earlier generation of new media artists. A video about waste management in a dystopian future, Landfill‘s lo-fi brilliance rested in its details—the crudely-rendered corporate logos that ran throughout the piece recalled the primitive ’90s software Kid Pix. In the Q and A, Mercer stated that he “didn’t study animation,” and revealed that the animations were made in Adobe Photoshop and arranged one frame at a time, “like an animated gif.”
The fun, handcrafted feel of “The Magic Floot” was much in line with the overarching aesthetic running that’s governed Tomato House’s past two years. “We like things that show some hand. That’s just our taste,” said Thurber in an interview after the screening, referring to his and Bird’s impressive program of group and solo shows from a mix of veterans and first-timers. “It’s really fun to give an artist their first solo show,” said Thurber. “It’s kind of like taking their art virginity.”