Bo Culpepper

By day, New York artist Bo Culpepper works in the photography department of Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art; he apparently spends his off hours playing with his son's Hot Wheels or gazing at city rooflines. His current show at Patricia Cameron Gallery is primarily made up of his whimsical "Botanicars," pen, marker, and ink sketches of cars transforming into flowers. Inspired by his son's toys, Culpepper adds weird electrical wires to these vehicles or lays them in the center of flowers surrounded by petals, creating an ironic juxtaposition. What's most striking, however, are his three large (30 inches by 40 inches) charcoal renderings of New York rooftops. Despite their seemingly ordinary subject, Culpepper's charcoals are well drawn and strangely dramatic. Charcoal is able to convey visual and emotional texture in a way that can't quite be achieved with ink, graphite, or paint. It can depict dark, bold precision as well as shadowy indistinctness. Perhaps this is because of its raw natural quality and primitive origin. Here, it captures the mood and smoggy haze of a city quite effectively. As the show's title, "Murmurings," suggests, there's a mysterious undercurrent simmering beneath Culpepper's work. In his charcoal picture, From the Pulaski Bridge, something apocalyptic is going on. The sun explodes in the background like a burst of fireworks while an unidentified squirming mass is suspended in the foreground over an otherwise realistic skyline. In Culpepper's world, even innocent toys become odd, unnatural creatures. This quirky, ominous layer is what makes his work intriguing. Patricia Cameron Gallery, 234 Dexter Ave. N., 206-343-9647, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Fri.; noon–5 p.m. Sat. Ends Jan. 14.

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