Arts & Theater

‘The Gun Show’ offers both predictable and provocative looks at American gun culture

Julia Couzens’ ”Gun Shy” is made of small silver nails precisely wrapped with layers of almost invisible string placed to resemble the font used as a logo in ads for Winchester rifles.
Julia Couzens’ ”Gun Shy” is made of small silver nails precisely wrapped with layers of almost invisible string placed to resemble the font used as a logo in ads for Winchester rifles. Julia Couzens

A statement by Suzanne Adan, guest curator of artspace1616’s “The Gun Show,” describes her experiences with guns when she was growing up in the postwar, baby boom, 1950s.

She recalls playing cowboys and Indians with cap guns, a game I also played back then. The kids in my neighborhood had cap guns, water pistols, ray guns, and in a pinch, forefingers pointed at the enemy as we shouted “bang, bang, you’re dead.” It was a hangover from frontier culture and we knew it was make-believe.

Today guns are more prevalent than ever and they are at the center of a cultural divide. Gun owners and the NRA proclaim their Second Amendment rights are inviolable. At the same time, mass shootings at schools, churches, synagogues and public places have become so common we barely have time to process one before another becomes breaking news.

“The Gun Show” at artspace1616 gives 35 local and regional artists a chance to weigh in on the subject. You might expect such a show to be provocative, disturbing, controversial – and it will be for some. But at its best, it’s rather cool, distanced and detached.

That approach works magnificently in Julia Couzens’ subtle, recessive, whisper-like wall piece “Gun Shy.” Made of small silver nails precisely wrapped with layers of almost invisible string placed to resemble the font used as a logo in ads for Winchester rifles, it floats across the wall like a visible breath. Startling red bloodstains as if left by a drive-by shooting are superimposed on the delicate mesh of lines that form the literally “gun shy” letters.

Some of the works in the show are well-executed, though predictable, employing the tired trope of guns as extensions of male organs. Others reference esoteric, at least to me, gun lore, notably Chris Daubert’s “John Dillinger’s Breakout,” a gun made of soap and shoe polish that mimic’s the gun Dillinger made and used to break out of jail.

Others are interesting but enigmatic, such as James Finnegan’s large metal cutout of a cartoon-like chaotic scene expressively painted in violent splashes of bright color. On a more intimate scale, Robert Ortbal gives us a series of tiny whimsical human/animal figures made of odd materials that are unexpectedly humorous. Jack Ogden gives us a quick charcoal drawing of “hand guns” with pointing fingers mimicking gun barrels.

Several works conflate guns and religion, from Michael Stevens’ caustic mixed-media wall piece with a malevolent nun and a giant gun pointed at your face to Gerald Walburg’s untitled metal sculpture of a rusty Christian fish symbol cradling a large black ball made up of cutout gun shapes.

Some pieces hit hard. Ron Peetz’s “Thoughts and Prayers,” a wooden school desk with a remarkably realistic toy assault gun on it’s work surface and several Bibles fallen on the floor, cuts to the bone.

Gale Hart’s “Linked,” an oversized chain-link ladder whose stages emanate from beautifully executed oversized hand guns, is impressively wrought and metaphorically rich.

Emily Wilson’s large, two-panel charcoal drawing “Trickle Down” presents a complex scene that moves from an antique chair in a sitting room where a rifle spews bullets in a thin stream into an outdoor scene with a cactus in front of an adobe structure where a man screams behind a richly rendered dead pheasant.

Adan has assembled a thought-provoking show of works by some of the area’s strongest artists that fill the entire large, airy interior of artspace1616. Be sure to see it.

If you go

The Gun Show

Where: artspace1616, 1616 Del Paso Boulevard.

When: Through June 30. Noon to 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; noon to 3 p.m. Sunday.

Admission: Free.

Info: (916) 849-1127

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