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Jay Riggio, 'No losses. Only lessons.,' (Detail) 2014, collage on paper, 14 x 11 inches

Ctrl+V: Collage at KHFA: Surreal Experiments in Appropriation and Suppression

Ctrl+V: Collage at KHFA was originally supposed to be a two person show featuring the work of Jay Riggio and another artist, who dropped out at the last minute. It’s a credit to Kirk Hopper that they managed to nonetheless string together a strong replacement show. Using Riggio’s paper collages as a departure point, the gallery has brought together work by nine other artists who all work in various forms of collage. It’s a simple conceit, but one that is strengthened by the diversity of approaches and the contrasting takes on this simple artistic strategy. We have pieces as varied as Chubirka’s tongue-in-cheek party Mao, an image of the Chinese communist leader with a Nick Bottom-like donkey head mask suspended in front; Yui Kugimiya’s Black Pay, a rich and nervously expressive canvass of matted hair and fur blurred with paint and gestural scratches; and Bryan Florentin’s minimal-conceptual appropriations of Home Depot bric-a-brac strewn with elegant, though elusive prints on clear plastic vinyl of found marks or window screens.

Some thematic tendencies emerge just because of the way collage works. Many of these artists are interested in the way meaning can be appropriated from existing objects or in the way meanings can be foiled or altered by overlaying materials, obstructing media, or juxtaposing imagery. In Clint Griffin’s House Warming, the artist takes a photo of a bizarre family moment – a shirtless man in a disheveled living room, with his head slumped over as a woman shaves the back of his head – and blanks out the subjects’ faces with dots of paint while adding fire to the floors and a countertop. The result is a renewed emphases of the unsettling, surreal nature of the original image, bringing all of the existential and social potency of the original scene to the surface. In Carlos Donjuan’s St. Benz, a portrait of a child with a LA dodgers ball cap – head framed by a faint halo-like sphere and bunting strewn across the top – is transformed into an eerie, candy-colored apparition with the addition of a geometric facemask featuring blank, black pearl drop eyes, a triangulated nose, and a downturned clown smile. The painting is simultaneously playful and mournful, evoking a nostalgic, though conflicted reminiscence of childhood identity.

Luke Harnden has two series of work in the show, and he may be the revelation of the exhibition. In one, neatly framed works on paper line a wall, and dip around the corner. It’s a visually appealing and playful installation (very Martin Creed-y), and it suggests a way Harnden thinks through his work: small aesthetic gestures which unleash a subtle sophistication. The pieces themselves consist of newsprint layered with acrylic paint. Ghostly letters appear faintly beneath the surface of the paint, or geometric shapes orchestrate seemingly blank surfaces into occasions of restrained formality. Harnden’s is an act of muted subversion, a coy teasing-out of something that always feels like it is brushing up against our fingertips, just out of reach.

On an opposite wall, Harnden has a series of tiny, torn-out black-and-white images pinned in a crescendoing line. Some seem to be film stills, others random photos from old newspapers. The artist applies whips and dollops of acrylic paint to turn each into a surrealistic vignette. They made me think of David Lynch and all his nervous, pent-up energy. Harnden’s paint turns these images into erupting, psychedelic dreams. They are ghostly, spiritual, mystical, surreal, and perfectly illustrative of the slight-of-hand of collage, the mark and the edit forcing new meanings to the surface, while subverting others.