Best Museum Exhibition

Thaddeus Strode: Absolutes and Nothings

Cavemen pondering a pot of gold, jailbirds plotting their escape with a pickax, comic-strip frogs and headless inspectors — for a few months last spring St. Louis got an oversize-canvas look at the extraordinary work of Los Angeles artist Thaddeus Strode. Strode grew up surfing and skating in Southern California, and his work incorporates the pop-cultural iconography of comics — think of the quintessential moonshine-sipping hillbilly, or the masked and corpulent executioner. But in Strode's work these incongruous images exist in abstract and wildly colored backgrounds. Sometimes they appear to be seascapes. Other times you'd almost swear he's painted a valley — but then again, it could just as easily be the graffitoed wall. There's a lot of deliberate ambiguity in Strode's dynamic mash-ups. They're filled with dripping paint and spray-painted designs, defying any unified interpretation. It's hard work looking at these things, and after absorbing yourself in Strode's imagery you're sure to be exhausted. But to borrow from the old joke about executioners: You'll be exhausted in a good way.

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