Patrick Duegaw’s “The Innumerable Anxieties: Studies in Disorder” is a show one suspects might please even Freud and Nietzsche.
Duegaw, a Wichita-based artist and co-founder of Fisch Haus, an artist cooperative where he lives and works, has exhibited nationally and in Canada. A series of autobiographically inspired works from his ongoing “Painted Theatre Project,” currently on view at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, is an allegorical, circuslike embodiment of the ambiguous and sometimes surreal tension between one’s more primal emotions and codes of “proper” conduct.
Upon entering the main gallery space, viewers can lose themselves in the magical spectacle of the show, in part due to the enormous size of Duegaw’s richly executed paintings. The effect is carnivalesque, and thus Duegaw’s innately profound conversation about inner conflict, rather than overwhelming a viewer, can be absorbed gently, as tough subjects often are best, with laughter.
Duegaw said his motivation is to address the nature of anxiety through “a whimsical rather than religious” context.
“A Distorted Sense of Melancholy (or) Contortionist of Indistinction” (1997), like many of its allegorical counterparts spread throughout the gallery, is a glorious oversized painting framed in a cross-shaped, salvaged wood frame. The painting’s subject, rather than a “holy” figure one might find in historical paintings of such magnitude, is an odd, slightly grotesque being, a figure that despite its contorted behavior still conveys a strange likeability.
In “Pierced by Dogma (or) The Misguided Sword Swallower” (2014), the subject performs a circus-style magic act, swallowing a sword and appearing to pierce his own heart, all with a performer’s smile.
Like others, this one is framed by a wooden cross, but there is more to the story. To the right is the cutoff top of this cross encasing, evoking a coffin of rules from which the character has been freed. A viewer might pause to wonder whether this is one of those times when the rebellious id is actually more fun than it is dangerous — even if any collective or individual superego might claim otherwise.
Other pieces, notably the different depictions of fire extinguishers from Duegaw’s project “Inadvertent Arson,” are less grandiose but serve an interesting point when it comes to anxiety. Installed within this exhibit, they indicate a protection measure against the fear of life’s potential mishaps. The inspiration for these pieces stems from the artist’s self-admitted “hypervigilant” side.
“Set Piece (or) Fisch Haus, 3rd Floor, West End, 320°” (2012) gives the viewer an extended panoramic peek into the artist’s combination of home and studio space. In this domestic garden of earthly delights there is a balance amid any disarray, with signs of both hard work and play, from kitchen to studio to a coffee table displaying empty beer bottles.
Despite the bohemian freedom that abounds, there are also established protection measures. Should serious discord or danger arise, viewers will notice that a depiction of one of Duegaw’s signature “fire extinguishers” is responsibly installed on the Fisch Haus wall.
Patrick Duegaw’s “The Innumerable Anxieties: Studies in Disorder” continues at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, 2012 Baltimore Ave, through Dec. 27. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. For more information, 816-474-1919.