Abraham Lincoln's head glowed through the gallery window. Even from a distance, the bust is impressive. Large and swathed in light, the piece seemed to beckon, “Just wait until you get inside. Wait until you see me up close.” That took a while. The opening event for “Conjoined III: The Final Chapter” at Santa Monica's Copro Gallery, curated by artist Chet Zar, was packed. But after about a half-hour of crafty maneuvering through a dense crowd, I came face to sculpted face with the 16th president of the United States.
Lincoln, by Kazu Tsuji, is a 45-inch bust. On its stand, the piece is 80 inches high, taller than the famously towering president. Its size lends an air of majesty to something that bears all the imperfections of humanity. The brow furrows. The eyes hang heavy. Inside the gallery, Lincoln appears greater than human, yet consumed by all the worries of the nation.
By day, Tsuji is a special effects and prosthetics make-up artist with loads of credits to his name. He's the artist who made Joseph Gordon-Levitt look like a young Bruce Willis in Looper. Like many of the participants in “Conjoined III,” Tsuji excels at blurring the line between fantasy and reality.
For three years, Chet Zar has brought together a diverse group to focus on “dimensional” art. This year's show appeared larger than in the past. Zar, who has amassed a large following for his own work, recently released the book Black Magick and was signing copies at the event. As was the case last year, the show included those who work primarily in the gallery world and those who best known for their skills on movie sets. With artists working in everything from bronze to silicone, the results are always eclectic. This year's work included the sleek, the macabre, the hyperreal and the surreal. It's a show that will mess with your head. Your jaw might drop — “Is that Mr. T? No, it's a bust of Mr.T.” — as you squeeze through the gallery.
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Last year, special effects make-up artist Kevin Kirkpatrick wowed the crowd with his piece Beavis and Butthead in Real Life, busts of the animated icons that looked incredibly human. Images of that piece went viral before the show. I came here on Saturday night, in part, with the hope that Kirkpatrick would have something equally wild in this year's installment of “Conjoined.” After walking around for more than an hour, I hadn't seen his name on any of the works. Then I noticed a crowd surrounding a far off wall of the gallery. After slithering towards the front, I caught a glimpse of Raoul by Kevin Kirkpatrick. It was the image of Hunter Thompson's altar ego best known from the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas movie posters and more recent paperback editions. Raoul's neck curls. The street lights reflect off his sunglasses while the cigarette hangs from his mouth. Underneath a shirt collar, there's a notebook boasting a Thompson quote, “If you're going to be crazy, you have to get paid for it or else you're going to be locked up.”
But this was more than just a tribute to a well-known image of an iconic character. The skin, the teeth, the ears, the vein popping out of Raoul's neck — it took a second to register that this was a bust, not a contortionist. After that double-take, it was difficult to take my eyes off the sculpture. Look into Raoul's sunglasses, try to follow the curve of the neck. It's hypnotic.
“Conjoined III: The Final Chapter” (not actually the last “Conjoined” show, according to gallery director, Gary Pressman), runs at CoproGallery until February 9.