Matt Straub: I'm Hit, But I Think I Can Make It: Lyons Wier Gallery

There Ain’t Time To Argue!
Oil, spray paint, and enamel on canvas, 58 x 52 inches.
This is my favorite. It's a huge work.

RIGHT NOW, it couldn't be more politically incorrect for me to "like" this exhibition.

Congresswomen Gabrielle Gifford lies breathing through a tube somewhere in Tucson, recovering from a point-blank gunshot wound to the head. Pro and anti-gun squabbles are loud and vocal. Psychoanalysis is the discipline of the day, as authorities try to work out how to spot nutjobs before they crack.

So, it's with great trepidation that I dare even blog about this show, although the vivid poster-like images sitting in the large window of Lyon's Weir gallery caught my eye long before the tragic incident.
Trouble Ahead
Oil, spray paint, and enamel on canvas, 22 x 22 inches I love the highly textured, thick blue thought bubble.

Matt Straub hails from Cheyenne, Wyoming, where he "spent his early years hitchhiking and hopping freight trains across the western states," according to the Lyons Weir press release. He now lives in hipsterville Brooklyn, NYC, but it's tantalizing to know that the artist has a swaggering background to match the theme he paints. The press release goes on better than I can paraphrase:

Featuring classic Western iconographic images of cowboys, cowgirls, guns and horses, Straubʼs paintings and collages depict the humorous and violent narratives and sentimental mythologies of the American West – a landscape defined by melancholy sunsets, badlands, gunfights, outlaws and red-blooded heroes. His references include Hollywood Westerns and the Comics and Pulps of the 1940ʼs-50ʼs.
Hell Cat
Oil, spray paint, and enamel on canvas, 58 x 58 inches

Business for the Undertaker, 2010.
Oil, spray paint and enamel on canvas, 52” x 54”
A sample of Straub's smaller series using cardboard mounted on wood.
Acrylic, spray paint, enamel, Krink, cardboard mounted on wood panel 12 x 9 inches

You could simplistically call this "Pop Art meets the Wild West." Lyons Wier defines it more learnedly as "the period of transition between Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art." I found the images arresting (kaboom!) and immediately wanted to hang the hero piece, "There Ain't No Time to Argue!" on my wall.

Most of these works are very large - which makes the subject matter seem larger than life, just like in the movies. Viewed through the big picture windows of Lyons Wier's corner spot on 7th Ave at 20th St, the images literally pounce on you and wrestle you to the ground.

But when looking at these works, the current events can't help but spring to mind. The gun is such a cold, inanimate device, invented wholly and solely to kill people in a very gruesome way. It has been romanticized by across the arts spectrum (film, TV, comics) to the extent that it's now available, as we know, as a child's toy. I even teach a yoga pose I call the Charlie's Angel Stretch because you hold your hands in a gun-like position. Every time I explain it to my students I fluff and fumble about for a better name, but that's the one that spills from my lips. Have I finally become as 'merican as a .22?

Matt with one of his smaller works on cardboard mounted on wood.
What is the Indian saying? You know already, says Matt.

But the recent shooting of Gabby Gifford brings it all home - a gun is real, not a yoga pose. It's metal and menacing, not colorful and plastic. It's weighty, not light. It's deadly, and not a mere "ping" of a rubber band.

For me, these paintings do not glorify gun violence at all, but express, with wordless, black and bullet-ridden speech balloons, just how absurd the invention is, and how people are desperately unable to communicate their grievances. Instead, they seek to silence their naysayers once and for all. Is that really what those empty speech balloons are all about? Matt shrugged.

"We all know what they're saying. There's no need to spell it out."

Though, in case it's been a while since your last "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" or "Unforgiven," re-run, the titles spell it out for you. With a bang.

Then Things Got Worse
Oil, spray paint, and enamel on canvas, 52 x 36 inches.
Deanne (left), gallery co-owner, with Matt Straub's better half (right)

Lyons Wier Gallery

Matt Straub Website

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