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Centre Gallery show produces random laughter

This week, visitors of Centre Gallery in the Marshall Center are greeted by a skeleton riding on a pink pig. As interesting as this creation is, it is only one of about a dozen fascinating pieces that include a flaming frog, a red, white and blue alligator and a halo-bearing Salvador Dalí.

The show is titled “funny at your expense” and features the work of “mutt,” a 31-year-old graduate student at USF. Mutt is an honor student and will graduate with a degree in 3-D studio art next spring.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this show is the way the works were inspired.

“I became very interested in the randomness of [art],” mutt said. “I wanted to see how fate can play a part in it.”

He created six categories – animals, things, pop icons, oddities, medium and color – and let students in his ceramics class randomly draw one item out of each bag. The results became the titles of the shown works.

Thus, the odd combination of the skeleton and the pig near the door is titled “pig/skeleton/cowboy/poison/paper/purple.” Mutt’s mission was to incorporate all six selected items into a single piece of art.

“Everything was random,” mutt said. “The titles came before anything, and that’s what I had to conform to.”

“Alligator/stars/x-men/poison/acrylic/brown” is another piece that captures visitors’ attention. The skin of a four-foot alligator became a canvas for mutt, as well as a version of The Star-Spangled Banner.

Mutt said his main objective during the creation of the pieces, which took all of the past semester, and now the show, was to have fun.

“It’s all very lighthearted, you know. I had a good time doing it,” he said.

“Frog/cake/grease/space/ wood/yellow” is a painting on a piece of plywood. A frog-turned-birthday-cake with burning candles on its back is the center of a work that combines warm and cool colors.

“This is one of my favorites,” mutt said. “I already got a few good offers for it, too.” Mutt used cooking grease on “frog/cake/grease/space/ wood/yellow,” which means parts of the painting are still wet and may still undergo random change.

Random may very well be considered the theme of this exhibition. From the way the works were inspired to the way they have been handled since, everything involves chance and interaction with people other than the artist.

“None of these are completed in my mind,” mutt said. “All of these pieces have changed a lot. The paintings have layer upon layer upon layer on them. I just kept experimenting until I found out what I liked, until I got satisfied with getting the title.”

Mutt even took his works out to a courtyard at USF and encouraged passers-by to become part of the process of art. The pieces were all set up, and people were asked to write on them with different inks such as cow blood, spray paint or tobacco spit. However, only about a third of the pieces got done, mutt said, complaining about his fellow students’ reluctance to participate.

“People said, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll be back in an hour. Let me go to class, and I’ll think of something to write,'” mutt said. “None of them came back.”

The painting featuring a portrait of Salvador Dalí is one of the pieces that received interactive treatment by another student. “I had to plead with this girl, I begged her,” mutt said. “Finally, she took some marker juice and wrote this.”

A bewildered looking Dalí now has the word “Help” written across his chest.

Mutt is a former commercial artist. He worked for several small firms, including a punk record label for which he designed album covers. Working for a tech school, mutt became interested in the alphabet. “Before computers came into play we had to typeset everything,” he said. “Letter after letter. Alphabet after alphabet after alphabet. I hated it.”

Mutt began to manipulate letters he created from clay by throwing them at a fan, dropping them from heights, running them over or playing baseball with them. The remains were then fired and some of them are part of this exhibition. “You ask yourself, ‘Is this still a letter “A” even though it looks like a pile of crap?'” mutt said. “After all it went through, you can still print with it. And it started out as an ‘A.’ “

“After doing this, I became really interested in the randomness of it.” Soon, the idea of the six categories determining the parts of a work of art was born.

Mutt currently has a part-time job that he wants to phase out eventually and concentrate fully on being an artist. “The greatest thing about this,” he said, “is that this is all mine. I don’t have to work for anybody else. I don’t have to satisfy anybody else’s confinements. It was a pain in the butt; so I decided to do freelance stuff.”

As the title of the show suggests, the pieces are quite humorous. The ability to laugh about his work and himself is something mutt cherishes.

“I went through a real dark, dark, dark phase a while ago,” he said. “Alcohol, drugs, clinical depression, stuff like that. But now I’m happy again.”

Mutt emphasizes the lightheartedness of it all and looks for his work as an artist to make him happy. And what’s better to make one laugh than a skeleton posing as a cowboy on a pig?

Mutt’s show ends this Thursday. Centre Gallery is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.