A beautiful underbelly | Art Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

A beautiful underbelly 

"Turnin' the Tip" plays with the carny aesthetic

Sideshow (detail) by Mike Houston and Martin Mazorra

Sideshow (detail) by Mike Houston and Martin Mazorra

First, a few definitions, courtesy of the "carny lingo" list at goodmagic.com. To "turn the tip" is to entice a crowd of onlookers into a sideshow. A "simp heister" is a Ferris wheel, the "simp" being the fool who consents to being heisted, or hoisted, into the air. "Flukum" is any mysterious liquid. And the "put 'n' take" is a rigged game.

Clearly, the pleasures are both linguistic and visual in "Turnin' the Tip: Simp Heisters, Flukum, and the Put 'n' Take"—a show of letterpress, relief, and screen prints by Cannonball Press's Martin Mazorra and Mike Houston. The artists are based in New York, but in the catalog for this show curated by Anchor Graphics, former Anchorite James Iannaccone makes a Chicago-style case for their work. Cannonball's output, he writes, is to the wider world of printmaking what the lowbrow Midway Plaisance was to the gleaming White City of Chicago's 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition: the sideshow, the underbelly filled with grifters, weirdos, and other exotica. The pieces on display here feature carny barker calls (amazing! feats of . . . demon wrestling) alongside finely detailed oddities such as a woman swallowing a sword, a flea circus, and a pimpled girl with nails sticking out of her face. Here and there the subject matter has been updated for a more modern (read: sarcastic) sensibility. In a print by Houston, a young girl beams behind her beleaguered father, who lugs a huge stuffed teddy bear. The text reads "win more crap you don't need."

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