The ongoing collaboration between Lenore Thomas and Justin Strom is described by the artists thusly: "Satan's Camaro is the lovechild of eighties rocker Nikki Sixx and teen pop star Tiffany. Based out of a bathroom in a Sheetz Gas Station in Hagerstown, Maryland, Satan's Camaro is committed to bringing you art that is better than now."
The artist statement for There are no birthdays in Hell, their effort currently on view at The Framery, continues the theoretical mashups that could have resulted in what you see on the walls. "Slayer meets Stereolab," they posit; "Halo meets Super Mario Brothers" is suggested; "Skeletor meets My Little Pony."
It's clear what they're getting at ... hardcore merges with lo-fi, nasty joins nice, and cute gets bitch-slapped by aggressive. Add to the above "Mechagodzilla meets Hello Kitty." It's a telling indication of how the artists -- Thomas is an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh, Strom an assistant professor at the University of Maryland -- view their work as a collective and their contributions as individuals.
The only problem is, with the works displayed here, it's a little misleading. There are certainly components in play that are glaringly antagonistic, as there are elements undeniably cute. But to relegate any of the aspects that construct the prints on show to one temperament or another constrains and limits them, doing a disservice to good and evil alike.
Bad first. Each panel -- titles include "Goodbye Tiny Dancer" and "You Don't Know Me You've Just Seen My Penis" -- is dominated by a piece of machinery: cogs, gears, levers, each motionless but ready for action. Sometimes they're complex, with elaborate structures housing intricate bits of wire and steel woven through and around each other. Occasionally they're menacing, with wheels ringed with jagged bits of metallic teeth ready to bite. Always, they're gritty, gray and obscure. Isolated from the devices they follow and apparatus they precede, their purposes are unfathomable, and it's impossible to determine their use.
Then, good. Sprouting from each of these ominous instruments bursts color! Rounded beads of baby blue, Milk of Magnesia pink, crème de menthe green explode from rusty orifices to brighten the day, let the sunshine in, and generally turn that frown upside down. Droplets spew in candy tints from pistons and sockets to cut through the darkness and dispel the gloom.
Look a little closer, though, and ponder a little longer, and you'll see that the dreary coldness of gray machinery might be simply a stagnant object lacking thought or action, and that the disingenuous eruptions of lightness might harbor something much darker. At first contrast to the dank machinery, for instance, the teardrops seem to enhance. Further investigations reveal them taking over. They're glorious, curvy, sugary parasites -- like leafy creepers coiling and curling around a fence, they start with a gentle bend, then grow large enough to dominate, choke and tear down. While they gain the strength to overpower, their hosts remain immobile and dormant, having no choice but to succumb.
Looks can be deceiving. So can conjectural mergers. The unions Strom and Thomas speculate upon are intriguing, yes. (Though, personally, I think "Slayer meets My Little Pony" could be pretty kicky.) But they don't do justice to the work they've actually created, which is beautiful, horrific and as layered in meaning as it is in process. A binder on view at the gallery demonstrates the stages each work goes through, from a top-secret smoke infusion to the last gobs of scarlet, peach or cobalt. Nikki Sixx and Tiffany? Whatever. Strom and Thomas? The most captivating coupling yet.
There are no birthdays in Hell continues through Sept. 27. The Framery, 4735 Butler St., Lawrenceville. 412-687-2102 or www.theframerypgh.com