Adamantine Arts shows its tentacles

STEVENS SQUARE — The cuttlefish is the chameleon of the ocean, the similarly tentacled cousin of squid and octopi with a highly evolved ability to change the color and pattern of its skin.

As anyone who caught that engrossing “NOVA” special last year on PBS will recall, though short-lived they are also surprisingly smart and relatively social for cephalopods. (Have you ever met a friendly octopus? I didn’t think so.)

So what does that have to do with art, you might ask?

That’s a good question for the folks at Adamantine Arts, the Minneapolis arts nonprofit that maintains a nice-looking website (www.adamantinearts.org/) as well as sponsoring local art shows and a lecture series at the University of Minnesota.

Joe Lipscomb, the organization’s president, said he had been playing around with the octopus motif for quite a while, in part because Adamantine seemed to have its tentacles in a little bit of everything. Just check out the diverse group of artists posting work to Adamantine’s online gallery and you’ll get the idea.

Lipscomb said there wasn’t too much tying together the artists in Adamantine’s “Cuttlefish” series at Stevens Square Center of the Arts (SSCA), so it just made sense name it after the invertebrate quick-change artist.

Kicking off the first of three “Cuttlefish” exhibitions at SSCA are illustrator Matt Wells, painter Jacob Alexander and copy machine artist Brian Priefer, who seem to have little in common apart from their age — all are in their 20s — and that they could probably be classed as “emerging artists.”

Wells, a Minneapolis College of Art and Design graduate and the only one of the trio with formal art training, admitted a kind of fascination with robotics. Several of his recent paintings depict his dystopian vision of a future when animal and machine meld, with disturbing results: In “Fish Head,” for example, the titular body part lunges from a murky background, propelled on some kind of robotic appendage.

Wells said the sci-fi images in his work were influenced by the work of Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger, as well as pop-culture’s take on the apocalypse in movies like “The Terminator” and “Blade Runner.” They also seem to be an uneasy reaction to science reality at a time when the evening news regularly reports advances in
bioengineering.

By comparison, Alexander seems a bit more hopeful about humanity’s future, and he tries to spread that feeling through his colorful and symbol-laden mixed-media works.

A self-taught artist, Alexander has also embarked on a self-education in spiritualism, world religion and mythology. Those interests are all incorporated into “Earth, Sun and Moon,” a bright and busy painting depicting those celestial bodies, Egyptian pyramids and Mayan temples in thick strokes of oil.

His interest in art, he said, was “specifically, the universe,” seeming not to notice — or care about — the oxymoron. And if he packed almost all his book learning into every piece, it was because he was looking for connections — not necessarily among all those myths and creation stories, but among people.

“My art is not so much to enlighten, but to give hope,” he said.

That attitude might make
Alexander the odd man out in this first installment of “Cuttlefish,” since neither Wells nor Priefer seem very interested in being so optimistic.

Priefer, who was also self-taught, essentially, creates his darkly surreal images late at night in a St. Paul Kinko’s.

He uses copy machines as a kind of analog version of Photoshop, twisting and shaking clippings from old magazines and Polaroid photos as the light bar passes beneath the glass. The prints come out with strange distortions: liquid smears and repeating images.

Priefer works in a limited palette because black-and-white copies, at 3 cents apiece, simply are more affordable than color.

He used a photograph of an actress’ terror-stricken face as the source material for one untitled piece that he plans to show at SSCA. In the print, squashed and elongated versions of her face come out stacked one on top of the other, surrounded by inky blackness.

With “Cuttlefish,” Adamantine Arts cast their trawler’s net into the sea of local art, and, boy, did they ever pull up some strange fish.