Satan Is Real, a joint exhibition featuring local artists Jeremy Beightol and Jesse Best at ModernFormations Gallery, presents celestial work drawn from the depths.
Both artists were featured in ModForm's annual Spring Salon (with Best winning the audience-juried competition). Beightol paints large works on canvas. Vividly hued, full of life they throw into your face, they marry fine art and pop culture in a black Mass at midnight somewhere in the middle of a Norwegian forest.
"Deth Kvlt" depicts a broken-toothed, gray-faced high priest whose god clearly couldn't save him: It's Francis Bacon by way of Metalocalypse. His black robes are covered with symbols referencing alchemy and superstition, his eyes rolled back in death or possession, his gaping maw open to guts in Hell. Poison-tinted roses surround him like a funeral wreath, with a few pointy-crested cardinals popping out in flame red for comic relief.
"Lvcia" transplants the imps from Scandinavia to Mexico: a large portrait of a woman, face painted with Day of the Dead-style sugar-skull imagery in primary brights. "Hammer, I Miss You" is an absolutely glorious depiction of a woman with not one but two goat heads atop a topless, blue-tattooed and loin-clothed body.
The four-part "Oceans Of Mercy" depicts the journey of a skull. It's as fantastic as the rest, but the choice to exhibit the black-, bone- and blood-colored quartet in two rooms is a little confusing. There's still no question a story is being told, but why separate the series?
Regardless, the curation leads you forward (even if you move back and forth between rooms piecing it together) toward two stellar animal portraits and the astonishing "Prelude to a Suicide By Mauling, or Revenge." The latter shows a red-haired, red-eyed, bearskin-clad girl standing on a mountain, while a bearskin-clad bear draws near behind her.
While the show's title goes unexplained in either artists' statement, it seems likely to refer to the like-named cult-favorite album by old-time country-western duo The Louvin Brothers. The album cover features the white-suited siblings with arms outstretched and mouths wide in praise, while a behemoth Lucifer looms behind.
Beightol's devils appear in their demon form: They're literal, solid and straightforward, and clearly straight out of Hell. In Best's work, meanwhile, the Lord of the Flies takes a more devious form, wherein the diabolical must be discovered.
Best paints on wood, assembled in layers, glossed to a blinding sheen. The majority of works depict clusters of blocky, solid residences, supplemented by a handful of their inhabitants; he's created a town and citizens, possessing depth both literal and figurative.
Best has worked as a bartender, and he has titled his works (both portraits and streetscapes) after his regulars. The subjects are mostly what his statement describes as "blue-collar workers." His portraits reveal the people Pittsburgh folks will immediately recognize as the seasoned characters who built the communities that make up this city. A favorite is "Falsie," an eye-patched, bandana-masked cowboy, his one visible eye crazily spiraled.
The houses are mostly single-toned, sometimes tilted, thrown like dice and left to lie wherever they've landed. But they don't seem neglected; they're brightly painted, well tended, loved. Jagged pine trees surround them, and further back stand large edifices, many spouting flame.
Best states that his work will mean something different to each viewer. For this viewer, each street scene cemented the belief that this was most definitely a specific Pittsburgh neighborhood, back when the houses that comprised it were new. From there, Best's demons become evident, as the towering shapes belching fire that provided a hellish backdrop for the workers who stoked the furnaces.
In cosmology, the forms the Adversary can assume are debatable. In this exhibition, the reality of the devil is not.
Satan Is Real continues through Jan. 15. ModernFormations Gallery, 4919 Penn Ave., Garfield. 412-362-0274 or www.modernformations.com