We try to make sure a local artist doesn't run on our cover twice in the same year, but in the case of Matt Stallings, we just couldn't help it after we saw The Ice Queen hanging at his new show at Subtext Gallery. After the Bomb Popped, which runs through Jan. 10 at the Little Italy gallery, is filled with subversive and cheeky paintings on wood depicting the familiar and fantastical characters that make up Stallings' obsessions. To call it pop art is selling it short. To call it lowbrow is to think there's some kind of hidden agenda or meaning. Whatever it is, Stallings likes the idea of messing with you.
'I would say I am very pop-influenced, but I love simple folk art, also,' Stallings says. 'Most of my paintings come to me when I see something on TV or I overhear some random comment on the street and my mind twists the words into something visual that makes me chuckle inside. I know it sounds strange, but one of my paintings came to me while drawing in the other room listening to my wife watch American Idol. I had never heard the term 'one-trick pony,' and instantly I thought about painting a horse on her hind legs with pink roller skates.'
If the word 'Ice' in 'The Ice Queen' looks familiar, it's because it's the same typeface used for the Icee frozen treats. This is a common occurrence in Stallings' work: Portraits of celebrities and Disney characters are given Stallings' special treatment. Listening to him explain to people at his openings why Jesus is a piece of chocolate and Mickey Mouse looks like he's a domestic-violence victim is certainly funny. Especially when his adorable twin daughters are next to him. Does this mean Disney movies won't be screened in his home? Unlikely, since Stallings, contrary to his art, just likes to keep it real.
'Being older now and reflecting back on childhood, I find that I see a lot of the power and mind control Walt Disney had over the last 50 years of our culture,' says Stallings, when asked about his portrait of the man behind the empire. 'The painting isn't there to make Walt look bad. It's more of an ode to his existence. He was just a normal man who pursued his dreams when a lot of people told him he was crazy.
'There is a bit of a dark undertone there, like Mickey Mouse with a black eye. I am just bringing to light what the industry can do to one single actor. Mickey is a worldwide icon. If he was real, I'm sure he would have a drinking problem.'